Johannesburg - "We know where you live.”
This is the implied threat opposition parties and NGOs fear is behind an audacious burglary at the offices in Midrand of the Chief Justice on Saturday.
Fifteen computers were taken from the human resources section of the offices containing sensitive details of all judges, including their home addresses.
The break-in follows two landmark rulings last week against Hawks head Mthandazo Berning Ntlemeza and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.
The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) said it was deeply disturbed by the break-in.
“The burglary took place after a period in which the courts have upheld the constitution and the law in the face of executive disdain for due process and the rule of law,” Casac executive secretary Lawson Naidoo said.
He noted the recent judgments that were delivered against the government, including setting aside the appointment of Ntlemeza.
“This inevitably raises suspicions about political motives for the burglary. We therefore cannot simply treat this as another routine crime in pursuit of economic gain in a society in which such events are, unfortunately, far too commonplace.”
Naidoo said it appeared that the timing of the assault on the judiciary was intended to intimidate and sow fear among judges of the courts.
“It has the hallmarks of being a carefully orchestrated operation that is more usually associated with a repressive state, in which the rule of law is deliberately trampled upon,” he said.
The official opposition did not mince its words in linking the break-in to the damning judgment delivered against Dlamini, her Department of Social Development and South African Social Security Agency on Friday.
“Like the robbery at the Helen Suzman Foundation, almost a year ago exactly, the DA views this as an act of intimidation,” spokesperson Glynnis Breytenbach said.
“It is highly suspicious that the break-in occurred the day after the Constitutional Court handed down a damning judgment in which they were highly critical of the Minister of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini, and the social grants crisis she has manufactured,” Breytenbach said.
She said attacks on the judiciary could not be allowed to stand and should be dealt with with the urgency and seriousness they deserved.
The statements by the DA and Casac were made a day after the ANC lashed out at DA chief whip John Steenhuisen for suggesting on social media that State Security Minister David Mahlobo could be involved.
“My money’s on Mahlobo and the kak-handed SSA (State Security Agency). Signal jammer, imaginary social media villains and inept break ins. Intimidation of judiciary,” Steenhuisen tweeted.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa accused Steenhuisen of making “wild, untested allegations impugning individuals without a shred of evidence to back it up.”
“The ANC directs Steenhuisen and his ilk to present to the relevant authorities and South Africans at large the evidence he is relying on to draw inferences and make allegations against the Minister of Intelligence, Comrade David Mahlobo in this matter,” Kodwa said before demanding that Steenhuisen make an unconditional apology.
Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko said the break-in should not threaten the independence of the judiciary, according to his spokesperson Sandile Ngidi.
“Minister Nhleko views this act of criminality in a serious light and has impressed upon the acting national commissioner of police Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane to ensure that the special investigation team working on the case work around the clock to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to book,” Ngidi said.
“This act must not weaken or threaten South Africa’s independent judiciary since the judiciary is one of the central pillars of our democracy.