Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
1 March 2007

Haikona Motata…

There was a mixed reaction to my comments here and here about Justice Motata’s appearance on Tuesday in chambers rather than in open court. While some emails lauded me for the harsh tone of my remarks, others argued that the prosecutor, Nazeer Cassim SC (degrees not obtained in Bulgaria, I presume), did not do anything that was illegal.

I do not want – and may not be competent – to argue about the question whether the action was legally acceptable or not. My point was that those involved should have acted according to the tenets of the Rule of Law, which requires an acceptance that we are all equal before the law and should not be treated differently because we happen to be rich and (at least in their own eyes) important.

Judge Motata evaded his constitutional and ethical responsibility – as a servant of the Constitution – to face the music. He most probably expected and demanded special treatment and was afforded such treatment, sending a signal that all are not equal before the law.

The response of critics also seems to be part of an emerging trend in public discourse according to which we are told that we are not allowed to judge public figures unless we can prove that they have broken the law and had committed a crime.

Thus Mr Jacob Zuma is “innocent until proven guilty” and we can therefore not ask awkward questions about why he took more than 1 million Rand from a convicted fraudster and then did favours for him in return while lying about it in Parliament.

Thus Commissioner Jackie Selebi admits that he is good friends “finish en klaar” with a person arrested for murder and we are told we must first prove he is corrupt before we start blaming him for nothing – how very dare we! Never mind that Mr Selebi has never denied the allegations that the accused had bought him expensive clothes and made some other payments to him.

There is a long list of such incidents where, in an Orwelian twist, those caught with their pants down are cast as the victims and those who ask the difficult questions about their nakedness are cast as the villians.

It is time that we eradicate the term “innocent until proven guilty” from the political discourse and reserve it exclusively for sparce use in the courtroom in criminal trails. It is used out of context to protect scoundrels and crooks and to demonise those who do not want to stop asking the questions that must be asked to help safeguard our democracy.

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