Gerrie Nel has built up a reputation not only for his skill and dedication, but also his determination.
“Everything he touches turns to gold,” said former National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga.
“He is one prosecutor whose prosecutorial expertise, conviction and integrity is beyond reproach,” said Mhaga.
High-profile cases like the Pistorius murder trial are nothing new for Nel, who will try and prove the paralympian shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in cold blood when the trial starts on March 3.
A career prosecutor with more than 30 years of experience, Nel is a familiar name in South African law for taking on big cases, including that of former national police commissioner and Interpol president Jackie Selebi.
Mhaga said Nel was modest when it came to acknowledging his own achievements.
“He is… a prosecutor who, during my interaction with him, displayed a character of skilful prosecuting, a brilliant art of presenting evidence and one who is very patient with the witness. I’ve known him to be a very dedicated prosecutor and a very resourceful prosecutor,” said Mhaga.
Nel is no stranger to pressure and intimidation.
During the Selebi trial, he was arrested at his home in the early hours of January 8, 2008, in what appeared to be a bid to disrupt the investigation against the former police commissioner.
Taken into custody by 20 police officers in front of his wife and children, the fraud charges were later dropped.
Two years later, he secured a corruption conviction against Selebi. He was jailed for 15 years by the High Court in Johannesburg in 2010.
Another senior police officer under investigation, suspended police crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli, last year accused Nel of conspiring with others to kill him. Mdluli himself is facing fraud charges.
But the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP) had only good things to say about Nel. He received a special achievement award from the IAP for his “fierce pursuit of the vision of the National Prosecuting Authority’s ideals to achieve justice in society”.
The IAP was full of praise for Nel’s gutsy achievements.
“It bears mentioning that the IAP is proud to have recognised the exceptional qualities of integrity, independence and perseverance that advocate Nel has displayed in the past,” it said.
“It is hardly surprising that the NPA has chosen advocate Nel to lead the prosecution in another reportedly sensitive and difficult matter that would seem to require a prosecutor such as one with advocate Nel’s track record.”
Nel enjoys some measure of celebrity status on social networking sites like Twitter, particularly after Pistorius’s bail application in February last year.
At the time, a picture circulated on Twitter with a photo of Nel and the words “Keep calm and trust in Gerrie Nel” written underneath.
User @galamolabi tweeted on February 22: “And I can’t wait for Oscar to be cross examined. Gerrie Nel is a very smart and calculating lawyer.”
Another user @sanzanombembe tweeted on June 2: “My friend said Oscar has the best lawyers in SA, 1 is my dad!! I said clearly ur dad doesn’t know Gerrie Nel…”
On December 4, @Sentletse tweeted: “Gerrie Nel restored some confidence in the NPA when he went head-to-head against Roux in the Pistorius case.”
Pistorius will go on trial on March 3, on a charge of premeditated murder after he shot his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year.
Judged by his previous record, Nel is seldom at a loss for words. During Selebi’s trial, Nel, referring to the former top cop’s struggle credentials, said he had brought his situation upon himself.
“We don’t have a fallen angel. Not at all,” said Nel.
He famously accused Selebi of being an “arrogant liar” after he told the court his wife had shredded key evidence.
“Mr Selebi, this is becoming more and more ridiculous. You know what this shows? That you are arrogant and that you lie,” Nel said at the time.
At one stage Selebi said to him: “Mr Nel, please, it doesn’t help to be obnoxious”, to which he replied: “Mr Selebi, now that you are in trouble you take on the prosecutor… You can’t answer… you are an intelligent, educated person so you pretend not to understand the question.”
Convicted drug dealer Glenn Agliotti said of Nel in the same trial: “I don’t particularly like Mr Nel and I say that with respect. I… don’t think many people that I know like Mr Nel, and I say that with respect.”
But after Nel recently secured a State witness against Nico Henning, in the murder trial of his ex-wife Chanelle Henning’s killers, Agliotti himself tweeted: “Henning gone… Nel too clever for him”.
Nel has a string of court successes to his name.
He was junior prosecutor in the case against Chris Hani’s killers in 1993. Clive Derby-Lewis and Janusz Waluz are currently behind bars for the assassination of the former SA Communist Party leader.
In 1995, he prosecuted two youths for gunning down a doctor outside the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg.
In the 1990s, Nel sent Kempton Park dentist Casper Greef to jail for murdering his wife.
He was responsible for sending Hazel Kidson to prison for 25 years for stabbing her husband to death outside their home in Horizon, Roodepoort, on the West Rand, in January 1996.
Nel was founding head of the Gauteng division of the Scorpions in 1999. He held the position until it was disbanded in 2009 and was said to be close to the then chief prosecutor Vusi Pikoli.
He was one of the prosecutors when Agliotti went on trial in 2006 for the slaying of mining magnate Brett Kebble. Agliotti was acquitted.
The world will be watching when Pistorius’s trial starts in the High Court in Pretoria next month when Nel takes on the star athlete’s legal team.
Law graduate Steenkamp was shot dead in Pistorius’s Pretoria home on February 14, 2013. At his bail hearing last year Pistorius submitted that he thought Steenkamp was an intruder when he shot at her through a closed bathroom door.
But Nel convinced the court to prosecute him for premeditated murder.
“There is no possible information to support his version that it was a burglar,” said Nel.
“She couldn’t go anywhere. You can run nowhere… It must have been horrific.”