The Zondo Commission’s arguments before the Constitutional Court regarding former president Jacob Zuma are disingenuous, says the writer. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)
The Zondo Commission’s arguments before the Constitutional Court regarding former president Jacob Zuma are disingenuous, says the writer. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Members of South Africa’s judiciary have become a law unto themselves

By Opinion Time of article published Mar 10, 2021

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Professor Sipho Seepe

In Dickensian terminology, South Africa is going through the worst of times. Ours is an age of foolishness, a season of darkness and a winter of despair. It is a period in which groupthink has unleashed all forms of violence on our senses. The best minds have since suspended their intellect to advance narrow political agendas. In the process, the interests of their handlers have subordinated those of the country.

The judiciary, supposedly the last bastion of sanity, has also not escaped this malady. Ordinarily one would have expected members of the judiciary to display a modicum of restraint and discernment. But this is not to be. Some of its members, ostensibly inebriated by their own sense of importance, have become a law unto themselves. Fortunately, the masses of our people cannot be fooled. They do not need judicial garb to know when justice is not served. They are now refusing to remain victims of massive deception.

This deception is deliberate. It is meant to distract us from addressing the persisting socio-economic injustices which are both historical and structural. African communities bear the brunt of all imaginable hardships. Nowhere is the intensity of deprivation felt and experienced than in these communities. Professor Chris Malikane recently observed that a

“handful of 3 500 largely white people own more wealth than 32 million people of working age combined … More than 17.7 million people who are overwhelmingly African are chronically bankrupt – they owe more than they own. These inequalities have endured for more than 350 years and they are rooted in the property dispossession of the African people, super-exploitation and oppression (17/12/2020)”

Instead of addressing these inequalities, an inordinate amount of energy is wasted on subtle non-arguments and false narratives. Media headlines have been hard at work in selling false narratives. A few are worth mentioning. The first false narrative relates to the ANC’s resolution requiring that those “accused of, or reported to be involved in, corrupt practices” should account to the Integrity Committee and be summarily suspended if they

“fail to give an acceptable explanation or to voluntarily step down, while they face disciplinary, investigative or prosecutorial procedures”.

But the very same resolution is quick to point out that the

“ANC should respect the Constitution of the country and the rule of law”.

One would have thought that this should have put paid to all sorts of arguments. The Constitution of the country is crystal clear. All are presumed to be innocent until proven otherwise. This simple injunction seems to have escaped many of the so-called step-aside brigade. In an age of foolishness, a mere accusation renders you guilty.

The situation gets worse when one factors in the existential reality that points that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is also wont to engage in malicious prosecution. Duduzane Zuma’s experience is a case in point. After being maligned by the media, Zuma jr was arrested on arrival and shackled. The NPA knew it had no case. The case was thrown out in court. Faced with embarrassment, the NPA decided to resuscitate another an old non-case. It lost again.

The second false narrative relates to the spirited defence mounted in favour of the judiciary against the allegations that some of in the judiciary are in the pockets of politicians. So-called analysts and editorials have urged accusers to furnish proof. But they are being dishonest. They know too well that the courts have ensured that such proof as may be contained in the putative CR17 funding campaign are sealed. Until the CR17 campaign files are unsealed, we may never know.

Instances of what appears to be a judicial bias abound. Not so long ago, a full bench (three judges) of Gauteng High Court could not resist the temptation of joining a bandwagon of Ramaphosa’s praise-singers. Instead of focusing on a case at hand, they opined that the

“new dawn that engulfed the country in 2018 did not miss Eskom Holdings SOC Limited (Eskom). It brought life to Eskom in that in January 2018, Eskom's old and inactive leadership was replaced by new leadership with new life to undo years of maladministration and corruption within the organization.”

In doing so, they nailed their proverbial political flags to the mast. The truth, however, is that we have since moved with great speed from Ramaphoria to Ramaruin and now to Ramageddon.

The third false narrative relates to the supposedly failure by the former president Jacob Zuma to appear before the Zondo Commission as directed by the Constitutional Court. In making its case, the commission argues that when

“Mr Zuma undermines the integrity and authority of this court and the judicial system as a whole, there is a grave risk that he will inspire others to do so and that the rule of law will be fundamentally weakened.”

But this is grossly misleading in several respects. First, the commission mischievously failed to point out that Mr Zuma

“has a review application pending in the high court against the refusal of the Commission Chair to recuse himself”.

Second, the Constitutional Court did not say that

“Mr Zuma is obliged to appear at the commission and answer questions regardless of the pending review application”.

In making their submission to the commission, Zuma’s attorneys pointed this out. This, however, fell on deaf ears. It would seem that the chairperson of the commission, Judge Zondo, has become so invested in Zuma that he is prepared to throw caution to the wind.

In the final analysis, our democracy is imperilled by those whose professional ambition trumps the rule of law on the one hand, and those who are ready to peddle half-truths and misinformation in order to deceive. Yes, ours in age of mass deception carried out through blatant lies, half-truths, innuendo and false narratives.

* Seepe is Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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