9 February 2020
Conscience of a Centrist
“The warrant of arrest [for former president Jacob Zuma] simply stands as a test to the people and we warn the judiciary and its friends. Do not threaten the peace of our country,” the ANC Youth League, which is currently trying to perform a Lazarus act, warned our esteemed judiciary this week. “Do not threaten the patience of our people. If you start a fire, you are bound to see flames.” As sad as the attacks on our judiciary are, one would have been taken aback if the so-called young lions affirmed the independence of the judiciary to mete out impartial justice when it comes to one of their own.
Their message is loud and clear: Justice is only justice when it is meted to the downtrodden and marginalised in society – the judiciary must not dare touch freedom fighters.
It takes a group of people with deep hatred for poor people, particularly black people, to stand up for a man accused of corruption that taken from poor people.
Enough said about the nauseating ANC Youth League, which has huffed and puffed its way to irrelevance since the expulsion of Julius Malema nearly 10 years ago.
The moribund youth desk of the ruling party cannot, however, be faulted for its antagonistic attitude towards the bench – they have learned from the ANC itself.
The ANC has over the past few years displayed a troubling pattern of attacking judges and the courts for rulings it disagrees with – a pattern that began during the Zuma years (and even before) and has continued into the mystical “new dawn”.
It was not long ago when Gwede Mantashe, then secretary-general of the ANC, called judges counter-revolutionaries and questioned their integrity and independence. The tiger was on the prowl then, and his colleagues in the party continue to be on the prowl to besmirch the judiciary.
The question is what is the end game? And what are the attacks on unfavorable judgments from senior members of the ruling party signify?
The only conclusion one can arrive at is that judges must ignore the law when ANC luminaries come before the courts. They must allow less-than-acceptable sick notes to show they are on the side of the people. This is what impartial justice means to the ANC.
In any constitutional state, the principle of an independent judiciary has its origin in the theory of separation of powers, whereby the executive, legislature and judiciary form three separate branches of government.
Together, these three co-equals of government constitute a system of mutual checks and balances aimed at preventing abuses of power. Fear of personal attacks, public backlash or enforcement failures should not colour judicial decision-making, and senior political figures have a responsibility to respect courts and judicial decisions.