Dr Daniel Matjila has twice been exonerated of wrongdoing, but the hounding continues. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA)

CAPE TOWN – In medieval England, Dr Daniel Matjila, the chief executive of Public Investment Corporation (PIC), would have met with swift barbaric justice. Not because he had done anything morally objectionable, or that if he has done anything at all, it cannot all be explained and set in proper context for the rest of the plebeians to understand what the accusation is all about. 

We would be impatient in the England of the times. And for lack of sophistication, we would have burnt him at the stakes and leave the rest to the conscience of history and its historians.

It is not so long ago when there had been reassuring consensus how so much of the decisions of the previous administration could be branded unconstitutional. And in that spirit, and rightly so, society had been feted to the detail of what may or may not be the outer limits of what is legally tolerable. 

True to the traditions of the constitutionalism of our common values, the incumbent administration found it fit to establish judicial enquiries to determine whether or not such allegations meet the standard and burden of proof of criminal conduct and statutory infractions. Until and unless the determination is made with finality and fact prevails over perception, we are enjoined to wait.

There is, however, a deep instinct, almost visceral, to want to behave differently in respect of the PIC in general, and of Matjila in particular. 

The tendency, as inquisitorial as it is unsettling, inclines toward the vilification of the individual before the allegations are fully interrogated and the outcomes accordingly determined. This is a sophisticated version of lynching by the media. 

And to each pack attack, there is a motive, known and unknown. Yet lynching by the media is not new to the globe in general, nor to South Africa in particular. It is a fairly known journalistic streak, a dark arts as old as the profession. 

Revenge by public means

And not unlike other forms of private revenge by public means, the parties screaming blue murder are not only the accusers, but also claim the right exclusively to occupy all the roles throughout the entire prosecutorial value chain.

The allegations appertaining the alleged unethical assistance provided to an associate have, according to the latest insinuations, re-surfaced. This may mean any number of things. Having been cleared by the PIC board and the allegations themselves dismissed as unfounded, with little or no probative value, resurfacing may mean that new evidence has been brought to light, volunteered by the alleged beneficiary of the assistance. 

Its corroborative quality is substantial enough to justify new headlines and the controverting of the basis upon which the initial board investigations were made and determined. 

In the alternative, new material has surfaced that has prompted the eerie noises sufficiently loud to drown out the quiet work of the ministerial investigation. 

Either way, there would be enough time to submit such evidence to a competent forum of record for the appreciation of its quality in the determination of the culpability or otherwise of Matjila.

There is a constant theme about lynching running throughout the different epochs of recorded history. The accuser controls the narrative, chooses the adjudication panel and subjectively prescribes the terms of reference. 

The same party loudly insists in providing corroborative testimony and pronounce the judgment. 

And horror of horrors, the accuser turns out to be the executioner too! “Be not perturbed”, we are told, “the victim is just Dr Matjila. For him and him alone, a completely unfamiliar procedure shall be preferred”.

In all corporate South Africa, barring Steinhoff, the king recommends corporate governance rules, and in tandem, so are the corporates required to comply. 

At the behest of the shareholders, the boards of directors adopt these recommendations as rule books for providing stricture and determinable parameters. 

Accountability of corporations

And so the full accountability of corporations is the exclusive preserve of the board. 

The PIC board for its part, is confident in its capabilities to execute the tasks mandated to it, and have consistently found no wrongdoing as alleged. The unique feature of this version of attack on Matjila is that it transcends two distinctly separate eras without changing texture, motive and trajectory. Only the ferocity has intensified.

At the height of the Gupta shenanigans and their robber acolytes, the last castle to capture, the most important frontier, was the PIC. The tactic was brutal and direct. 

Disparage the integrity of the leader, pounce on the key and raid the family silver. The attack on his person, his personal possessions and his integrity, quite distinct from the performance of the PIC overall, surfaced. 

The guardians of the king’s recommendations acted swiftly, investigated the matter and found no wrongdoing. They are aware, as is Matjila, that outside the allegation of criminal conduct to which the prosecutorial authorities will respond, the process is bound to, as it must, follow the investigation which the Minister of Finance has commissioned. 

But the mob is hardly satiated. To them such investigations are diversionary and a waste of time. 

Why even bother, because the outcome has been preordained. And if the investigation does not reach the same conclusion as the accusers’, they shall go after them too.

It is an irony of history that the ethics of the Fourth Estate are a Phoenix that rose from the ashes of witches burnt at the stakes for no other plausible reason than the whispering of a rumour and the loudness of an accusation. 

A very vicious irony indeed. To the possibility that the integrity of the investigation will be so stretched by numerous diversions, its findings could be tainted just enough to litigate endlessly and so drum up calls for an establishment of a commission of enquiry. Brace yourselves.

The point is, beyond the accusations levelled against Matjila and the integrity of the Fourth Estate with its evolving ethics in this Trump era, the freedom of the Constitution and the liberty of the individual will, is destined to experience a lot of turbulence. 

Whether in the best of times or uncertain political moments, tyranny by the media remains the worst.

Ambassador Bheki Gila is a Barrister at Law.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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