Taking on Zuma and other challenges

HERMAN was corrupted to the Punjabiised ‘Har Maan’ in a short while as our new guest was made to feel at home. A few weeks ago his mother Charin informed us that she would come to take Herman back. Naturally, we welcomed a chance to meet her, since till now we only knew her from a long distance, via phone calls, e-mail messages, and Facebook, along with conversations with Herman. A smart woman, she is measured with her words, and remarkably well informed about India too.

Herman came to us as an exchange student from St Stithians Boys College, Johannesburg, South Africa, where our son Jansher maintains was the best time he had in his life, as an exchange student earlier in the year. The boys met at school, though Jansher was hosted by the ‘awesome’ Leigh family. Herman’s mother Charin had taken them to Soccer City and some other places. Herman came to us after a stint at Doon School.

He is a handsome well-behaved child who has a ready smile, and as we soon discovered, is quite witty and a pleasure to have around the house. Yet there was also something about him that made you wonder about what exactly made him tick. It stuck a familiar note, since I have seen something similar, having spent much of my childhood with people from privileged families. They had a background which would make others envious, but one which they took lightly.

We did not know too much about Herman. He didn’t go into any details regarding his parents and we did not want to probe. In any case, it was a welcome change, since the statement “Don’t you know who my father is?” reminds one too much of spoilt children asking for special treatment.

As days passed, he became a part of the family and we started sharing much more. He would often talk about his father, who we now knew, was a senior official with the international auditing giant, KPMG. It was, however, his mother, who obviously had much influence on him, and who he looked up to. “What does your mother do?” I asked him one day. “She is a prosecutor,” he said.

Over dinner, yesterday, as we munched our way through tikkas and kababs, we found out much more about her. Herman had neglected to mention that not only was his mother a prosecutor, but that she was actually the Director of Prosecutions in Johannesburg. “After the Zuma episode, I decided to devote my time to my family, and stopped working,” she said.

A surreptitious check on Google through my cell-phone revealed much, even as we went through plates full of Indian savouries, which she wanted to try out. The screen was full of news on her. This petite woman had taken on the former deputy president Jacob Zuma, who was accused of raping a 31-year-old HIV-positive family friend.

The case was a hot potato which no one else wanted to touch and thus it landed in the lap of the person who had become the youngest prosecutor in South Africa at the age of 24, and had risen to the top. According to many newspaper accounts, this was by the dint of hard labour, integrity and a good record of convictions.

She fought the Zuma case hard, but in the absence of some crucial evidence, which never reached the Johannesburg High Court, Zuma was acquitted.

Charin de Beer found herself in a position where she might have had to compromise her integrity to keep her job. She quit, and has been devoting herself to her family, especially her children, Herman and his sister. Well, the woman who took on Zuma faces the ultimate challenge every mother faces, of bringing up her children well. From what we have seen, she has achieved much success here also.

This article by Roopinder Singh was published as a Middle in The Tribune on November 10, 2011

Taking on Zuma and other challenges

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