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
6 July 2007

McBride and the innocent until guilty charade

It might well be that it was a pure co-incidence that the police officers who turned against Robert McBride after his alleged drunken driving incident, were arrested for driving with tinted windows this week. It might be that the police arrests thousands of people for this offence every week and that the poor officers just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is also possible, I suppose, that George W Bush will announce next week that he is firing Dick Cheney and pullimg all troops from Iraq.

But if I was a betting man, I would not be one to put even one Zimbabwean dollar on either of these scenarios being true.

Clearly, something fishy is going on. The officer has presumably been driving with tinted windows for some time. Why arrest him now? Why call McBride, the Metro Police Head, to the scene of the arrest? Any reasonable person will be hard pressed not to think that McBride is acting like the worst kind of school yard bully, victimising his colleagues because they ratted on him.

The mayor of Ekurhuleni gets it exactly wrong. News24 reports that the mayor, Duma Nkosi, has previously said that McBride is innocent until proved guilty “by credible institutions created by our democracy”.

This case is rather similar to that of Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi, who has admitted to be a good friend of the alleged murderer of Brett Kebble.

In both cases a dark cloud hangs over a senior police officer. In both cases the credibility of the officer has been severely tainted. In both cases their supporters claim that they are innocent until proven guilty and that us normal people are therefore not allowed to have any opinion about them until such time as they are convicted in a court of law.

This might be true if these two were ordinary citizens. But they are not. They are public representatives charged with upholding the law. Even a whiff of scandal fatally compromises their integrity. They are innocent of a criminal offence until proven guilty, yes. But there is also a court of public opinion. In that court they have already been found guilty.

This makes it impossible for them to do their job properly. In order to protect their rights, they should both be suspended until a full investigation into their alleged nefarious activcities have been completed. If this full and independent investigation then finds that they are both angels, fine, they are cleared and can return to work. If not, they must be fired.

It is sad how public representatives hide behind the innocent until proven guilty mantra to escape all forms of public accountability. They do not understand that in a democracy public officials are accountable to the masses of the people.

And public accountability cannot only be about whether one has been convicted of a crime. Many people who have never been convicted of a crime is unfit for public office. To suggest that as long as one has not been convicted one is fit for public office no matter what one has done or is alleged to have done is an insult to us ordinary people who have a right to accountable public officials.

It suggests that the bar for public officials are set so low that any charlatan and conniving bully can become a police commisioner as long as he or she is never succesfully convicted of a crime. If we use that measure PW Botha, Magnus Malan, Wouter Basson, and George W Bush for that matter, should all have been fit to be public officials in South Africa.

And I thought we were fighting against this kind of lack of public morality.

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