William Andrew ‘Willie’ Hofmeyr

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Biographical information

William (Willie) Andrew Hofmeyr

Synopsis:

Activist in the labour movement, member of the UDF and ANC, human rights lawyer, Member of Parliament, Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and head of t

First name: 
William
Last name: 
Hofmeyr
Date of birth: 
22 November 1954
Location of birth: 
Cape Town
Ban information: 
Act No. 44 of 1950 Sec. 9(1) Issued Period(s) [23 Nov. 1976 to 31/10/1981]
Miscellaneous: 
Restricted to Cape Town. Economics graduate of UCT and executive member of the Wages Commission there (see Albertyn). Editor of Umanyano, an newspaper for workers.

William Andrew Hofmeyr, popularly known as Advocate Willie Hofmeyr, was born on 22 November 1954 in Cape Town, South Africa[i] . After matriculating from Nassau High School, Hofmeyr enrolled at the University of Cape Town (UCT) where he completed a BA in Economics (1976), an MA in Economic History (1984) and an LLB (1989)[ii] . Through this time, his research interests were the African National Congress (ANC) attempts to organise farmworkers in the Western Cape during the Great Depression[iii] . Having completed his research, he took and passed the attorneys’ admission examination for South Africa in 1991[iv] .

From 1975, while the South African Apartheid government increased state and state-sponsored political violence to combat resistance, Hofmeyr joined the South African Committee for Higher Education (SACHED) tutoring underprivileged students in informal settlements[v] . After this, Hofmeyr went on to join the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) where he became involved in labour-related formations[vi] . By 1975, he was elected to the Executive Committee of the NUSAS Wages Commission, where he undertook research on union and labour issues, and assisted in organising the union movement in Cape Town[viii] . He was also active in the Western Province Workers Advice Bureau, which preceded the General Workers Union.

Hofmeyr served on the editorial board of Abasebenzi, a monthly newspaper produced by the Wages Commission for the emerging unions, until the banning of Abasebenzi in June 1976.  From June to November 1976, he was the editor of Umanyano, the successor to Abasebenzi, until this publication was also banned. On several occasions he was detained briefly, without charge, for distributing Abasebenzi and Umanyano as well as his involvement in illegal marches for the Wages Commission[viii] .

Between 1978 and 1985, Hofmeyr served on the executive of the Labour History Research Group. The group was responsible for producing popular labour and political histories for the labour movement[ix] . He combined this activity to his membership of the Economic History Research Group, from 1979 to 1982, to produce a popular history of South Africa for student organisations[x] .

Hofmeyr joined the United Democratic Front (UDF) at its launch in 1983, rising through the ranks to become Coordinator for the Gardens area by 1985, and then zonal co-ordinator of Cape Town Central by 1986[xi] . The following year he was detained under Emergency Regulations in the Partial State of Emergency declared July 1985 (Proclamation R120) to crack down on the activities of mass democratic movements. Hofmeyr was detained for two weeks[xii] . Following his release, he was elected as Media Officer and acting Treasurer to the UDF’s Regional Executive Committee (REC) in the Western Cape[xiii] . He remained a member of the REC until the UDF was disbanded in 1991[xiv] .

In 1987 Hofmeyr brought a successful court application on behalf of the UDF demanding the unbanning of a public meeting that had been banned by the Apartheid government[xv] . Consequent to this landmark success, the Western Cape became the only province where the UDF could organise meetings fairly freely. However, the government’s declaration of a State of Emergency throughout the early 1980s meant that the UDF was virtually banned in 1988 and Hofmeyr was restricted to house arrest under Emergency Regulations[xvi] . Because of his participation in the committee that conducted the Save the UDF Campaign, Hofmeyr was detained for violating Emergency Regulations and sentenced to solitary confinement for six months,for not complying with his restriction order. He was released later that year in November,[xvii] when it became clear that he would win a court case declaring his detention in solitary confinement to be unlawful. Following his release, Hofmeyr sued the Minister for detaining him under unlawful conditions and he was awarded R50 000 damages[xviii] .

During the latter years of Apartheid, Hofmeyr shifted his focus from the protest action to legal representation and council ofpeople detained for anti-Apartheid activities. In August 1989, he became part of a committee that planned the Defiance Campaign against the apartheid state’s Emergency Regulations[xix] . As part of the Campaign, restricted people defied their restriction orders intentionally as an act of organised passive resistance. After being arrested on four separate occasions, he was in 1989 detained. At the time Hofmeyr brought a successful court application that prevented the police from chaining him to his hospital bed and from moving him to a Free State prison[xx] . After a 28 day hunger strike, Hofmeyr was promptly released[xxi] .

Following Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in February 1990, Hofmeyr became involved in negotiations for the release of political prisoners from Robben Island, particularly the more than 300 prisoners who embarked on a hunger strike to protest their continued imprisonment in the run up to the CODESA meetings[xxii] .

By June 1990, Hofmeyr served as the Western Cape Campaigns Co-ordinator for the ANC, before being elected to the full-time position of Assistant Secretary on the Western Cape Executive Committee in 1991[xxiii] . As assistant secretary he managed the administration and co-ordination of campaigns of the ANC in the pre-democracy period. During 1993-1994 he worked full-time as part of a team that co-ordinated the election campaign for the region, particularly organising major events where President Mandela appeared[xxiv] .

Hofmeyr was elected to the ANC national list as a Member of Parliament in 1994 where he served until 1999[xxv] . His main involvement was on the Justice Portfolio Committee, which focused on the implementation of the new Constitutional Structures and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), as well as appropriate reform of the justice system in accordance with international human rights standards.

Following 1994, Hofmeyr became a member of the Constitutional Review Committee in the Constitutional Assembly, which negotiated and amended contentious parts of the new constitution.

He would also come to serve the same auditory role dealing with the many difficult issues in the Bill of Rights[xxvi] . These issues included the clauses dealing with socio-economic rights, property, equality, and the right to life as well as the death penalty and abortion, administrative justice, the right to information, emergencies, fair trial rights, locus standi, and the limited horizontal application of the Bill of Rights[xxvii] .

Due to his extensive legal expertise, he served as co-chair of Theme Committee 5 of the Assembly, which dealt with the judiciary and legal system, including the powers of the Constitutional and other courts, the appointment of judges through a Judicial Service Commission and other mechanisms to ensure the independence of the judiciary[xxviii] . It also dealt with the creation of an independent, national prosecuting authority, an involvement that in recent yearshas gained him formidable foes.

During the period (1994-1996), Hofmeyr was a member of the Constitutional Commission of the ANC serving on its extended secretariat during the constitutional negotiations[xxix] . Hofmeyr was also a member of the ANC’s negotiating team during the transition to democracy, meeting with the National Party to reach agreement or compromise on the many disputed and deadlocked issues between the two parties[xxx] . By 1998 Hofmeyr served as the Parliamentary counsel and advisor to then Deputy-President Thabo Mbeki.

In May 1999, President Thabo Mbeki appointed Hofmeyr as Special Director of Public Prosecutions in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and to establish and head the new Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU)[xxxi] . The AFU was mandated to carry out investigations of drug-syndicate crimes, trafficking, fraud and money laundering and seized any assets gained therein.

In 2001, he was appointed by President Mbeki as the Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions and remained as head of the AFU[xxxii] . Following this, in August 2001, Hofmeyr was also appointed as head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) from 2001 to 2011 in addition to his work in the AFU[xxxiii] .

In August 2015 Hofmeyr was removed from head of the AFU and transferred to their Legal Advisory Division, allegedly because he exposed inconsistency and fraud within the National Prosecuting Authority, in particular their treatment of Jacob Zuma and former National Director of Public Prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana[xxxiv] .

As of 2016, Hofmeyr has beenserving as one of the legal experts on the 14-person parliamentary shortlist for the position of Public Protector to replace Advocate Thuli Madonsela, when her term ends in October (2016)[xxxv] .

AnchorOn August 11, 2016, William Hofmeyr was publically interviewed by the South African Parliament for the position of public protector, where he was heavily criticised for his actions while in the National Prosecuting Authority[xxxvi] . The shortlist announced on the 19th of August did not include Hofmeyr[xxxvii] .

Endnotes

[i] William Hofmeyr, Who’s Who Southern Africa, 14 July 2016. http://whoswho.co.za/william-hofmeyr-4270

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v]Jeremy Seekings, History of the UDF (Cape Town: David Philips, 2000), p.19.

[vi] Ibid., p.21.

[vii] Ibid., p.21-23.

[viii] Julie Frederikse, The Unbreakable Thread: Non-Racialism in South Africa(Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1990), p.121-123.

[ix]Ibid., p.131.

[x]Ibid., p.135-137.

[xi] Seekings, History of the UDF, p. 112.

[xii]Anthony S. Mathews, Dilemmas of the Apartheid Society(California: University of California Press, 1987), p.198.

[xiii]Seekings, History of the UDF, p.131.

[xiv]Ibid., p.133.

[xv] Ibid., p. 131

[xvi] Mathews, Dilemmas of the Apartheid Society, p.200.

[xvii] Mathews, Dilemmas of the Apartheid Society, p.211.

[xviii] Ibid., p. 210.

[xix] Mr Willie Hofmeyr, National Prosecuting Authority, 20 July 2014. https://www.npa.gov.za/content/mr-willie-hofmeyr

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Frederikse, The Unbreakable Thread: Non-Racialism in South Africa, p.119.

[xxiii]Ibid., p. 121-123

[xxiv]Ibid., p. 121-123

[xxv] Mr Willie Hofmeyr

[xxvi]Mr Willie Hofmeyr

[xxvii]Mr Willie Hofmeyr

[xxviii] William Hofmeyr, Who’s Who Southern Africa, 14 July 2016. http://whoswho.co.za/william-hofmeyr-4270.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] William Hofmeyr.

[xxxiv] William Hofmeyr.

[xxxv] William Hofmeyr.

[xxxvi] Public Protector Shortlist Reduced to Five Candidates, Eyewitness News, 18 August 2016. http://ewn.co.za/2016/08/18/Public-Protector-short-list-reduced-to-5-can...

[xxxvii]Ibid. 


References:
• Frederikse J. The Unbreakable Thread, Non racialism in South Africa, 1990, Ravan Press, Johannesburg
• Seekings J. History of the UDF, 2000, David Philips, Claremont Cape Town

Last updated : 24-Aug-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 01-Sep-2011