JOHANNESBURG – What was meant to be an opportunity for Old Mutual chairperson Trevor Manuel to set the record straight on the ongoing saga between the company and axed chief executive Peter Moyo backfired monumentally over his ridiculous comments on what he called an individual who happens to wear a robe.
The said individual is South Gauteng High Court Judge Brian Mashile, a respected jurist in South Africa, whose only sin appeared to be his order that the insurer should reinstate Moyo.
Manuel could not take it. After all, Old Mutual has lost two court cases against Moyo.
In July, Mashile ordered that Moyo should be temporarily reinstated. Last month Mashile dismissed Old Mutual’s application for the declaratory order that prevents Moyo from resuming his duties as chief executive.
He, however, granted the insurer leave to appeal the July court ruling which ordered that Moyo be reinstated. Moyo, 56, has been a stay-at-home dad since May, despite the court reinstating him.
Last Friday, Manuel set out to set the record straight (pun intended!)
He reiterated the company’s position on why Moyo would not resume his duties.
He said that it was never the insurer’s choice to have the matter before the courts and that it would have preferred that it be handled differently.
Manuel felt Old Mutual was unfortunately hamstrung by the court decision to reinstate Moyo and that it was careful to comply with the judgment to the extent possible.
He described Mashile’s order as a setback for corporate governance in South Africa.
He was incensed by the court’s interfering with how businesses should be run.
“We are duty-bound to appeal that kind of judgment, because if you have a board and you give it the responsibility of accountability, and you get that overturned by a single individual who happens to wear a robe. I think you have a bit of difficulty. We must take that matter on appeal,” said Manuel.
He withdrew the comments after a journalist called on him to do so out of respect for the judiciary.
But the damage had already been done as Manuel displayed a nasty impression of the board’s underlying disregard for the role the courts play to uphold the laws of the country.
And Mashile happened to be the judge who had twice ruled against Old Mutual on Moyo.
It is Mashile’s duty and that of the courts to arbitrate in disputes between parties.
When one party feels aggrieved or has a different interpretation of how the law should regulate the contractual relationship that exists, courts are there to give the correct guidance.
One of the most cardinal pillars of our Constitution is that no one is above the law.
This is what Manuel spent years fighting for during his years as an activist and a founding member of the United Democratic Front.
His comments should, therefore, be criticised for what they are - misguided.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has rightfully said that judges must be criticised if they are believed to have done something wrong.
Mogoeng said even if members of the public are wrong in believing that judges are wrong, they should be free to voice their dissatisfaction.
But, he argued, people like Manuel should be careful of their criticism.
“There is an added responsibility that rests on the shoulders of those who wield some influence, of those who occupy leadership positions.
“You ought to know that a lot more value is likely to be attached to your statement as a leader than is the case with the general public,” Mogoeng said.
Manuel rambled on about how he won a defamation case against the Economic Freedom Fighters when the very courts ruled that the red berets had to delete their derogatory statements on Twitter, apologise, and cough up R500000 for accusing him of corruption and nepotism in the appointment of Edward Kieswetter as the new commissioner of the South African Revenue Service.
The former finance minister said he was yet to get his money.
His frustration may be understandable, but never justifiable.
More than anyone else, Manuel knows how slow the wheels of justice can turn.
But that does not make the system useless or ridiculous.
It is in the interest of justice that the learned judges go through everything to ensure that their judgments are sound.
Yesterday Manuel apologised for his outlandish outburst. But the apology was a little too late. His comments bordered on nothing but pure arrogance.
He had a chance to take the public into his confidence on the unending impasse between the country’s oldest insurer and its axed chief executive, Moyo.
All he needed to do was to shed light on how the company planned to end the spat and pick up the share price that has lost ground since Moyo was suspended on the grounds of a material breakdown in confidence and trust in May. Instead, it probably swayed public sympathy for Moyo.
It is unfortunate that the board, Moyo, other employees, shareholders and clients are left no wiser on how the dispute will be resolved.
And that, instead of Mashile, is the biggest assault on corporate governance in South Africa.