A prohibition on ANC Youth League demonstrations at court hearings is, on the face of it, a progressive move: leave justice to take its course, unhindered.
But the league’s decision at the weekend was qualified and thus incomplete, stripping it of a principled stance against badgering the courts in their pursuit of justice.
And it exposes the league to criticism of an opportunistic ruling before Julius Malema, its former president and expelled ANC member who is now decidedly out of grace, is due to face the music in court on racketeering and money laundering allegations relating to a R52-million contract in his Limpopo province.
Malema has enjoyed loud, comradely support on previous occasions. But that seems to be over.
The league has instructed members “to desist from the unbecoming practice of mobilising and organising young people under the banner of the ANC Youth League for court appearances and similar activities of accused persons”.
But it said members were free in their personal capacities to support comrades. And it stipulated that the league’s halt to court protests applied only to individuals in conflict with the law – not issues before the court that interested it.
So if the youth league feels passionately about e-tolling in Gauteng, for instance, it may still turn out at court to express this.
What do court demonstrators, such as those who sang, danced and chanted for Jacob Zuma and Malema, hope to achieve? Do they aim to catch the limelight, influence the court, or both?
Whatever the goal, organised political protest at courts is unwelcome. It violates the constitutional detachment of our courts, and gives the unfortunate impression that the crowds outside believe the presiding officers inside can be swayed.
The youth league went halfway. It should have banned all ANCYL demonstrations at courts, as should all political parties.