Constitutional Hill


Our own Sarah Palin?

During the USA Presidential campaign, vice presidential candidate Sarah “Barracuda” Palin was rightly lambasted after giving a disastrous and laughable interview to Katie Couric. The most quoted section dealt with her lack of foreign policy experience and went like this:

Couric: You’ve cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

Palin: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land boundary that we have with Canada.

Couric: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.

Palin: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I’m executive of.

Couric: Have you ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

Palin: We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin rears his ugly head and comes into the air space of the United States, where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.

Last night while watching the ETV interview with President Jacob Zuma, it suddenly dawned on me: maybe President Jacob Zuma  is our Sarah Palin! Like Palin, President Zuma has charisma, glamour and the common touch. Like Palin our President is much loved by his core supporters who believe that he is being victimized by snooty (or even racist) elites with no respect for traditional values. Like Palin, President Zuma can charm individuals when he meets them. Like Palin, Zuma has an interesting family life. And like Palin he looks completely and embarrassingly out of his depth when confronted by an intelligent and probing interviewer on TV.

Nikiwe Bikitsha did a brilliant job in the interview: she was respectful and courteous (as one should be when interviewing the country’s President to show respect for the office of the President) while asking probing and pointed questions and following up the many evasive and often misleading or plane wrong answers with pertinent follow up salvo’s – always humbly nodding along as the President basically admitted that he did not know much about what was going on in his government.  Our President kept on saying that discussions were continuing on many pivotal issues for South Africa (nationalization, schooling, Julius Malema, the NPA) but that nothing has been decided yet and that he personally had no views on any of these issues.

When asked about whether he would pardon Shaik, he wisely decided to skirt the question because the issue is so politically sensitive and because his advisors must have told him that he should not say anything about it until they have found a way of managing the inevitable fall-out of a possible pardon. Unfortunately, the President skirted the issue in such a ham-handed way that he created more trouble for himself.

“Why should I pardon him when he has not applied?,” he said. “I have nothing in front of me. If there was an application before me, you should ask the question. Why should I respond if I do not have the application before me?” Unfortunately the Presidency issued a statement on 19 October 2009 that contradicts this statement:

The Presidency received an application for pardon from Mr Shabir Shaik last year, on 24 April 2008. The application will be processed like all other applications

The President has therefore indeed received a pardon application and he therefore does have an application in front of him. He might not  have read the application himself, but he does have it on his desk and should know this as his office has confirmed this in an official press statement. Oops!

This is not a life and death issue and will not influence the legality of any pardon when it is eventually granted, but it was another embarrassing gaff on the part of the head of the South African executive which creates the impression that the President is either not aware of what is going on in his own office or that he is perfectly prepared to tell a whopper in order to avoid answering an awkward question.

But maybe there is a kinder explanation for the seeming Palinesque inability of President Zuma to answer any of the questions posed to him and his seeming lack on knowledge and grasp of the issues confronting South Africa. Maybe he avoided answering the questions because he is afraid.

In this regard the ghost of former President Thabo Mbeki seemed to hover over proceedings.

After all, Mbeki lost his job because he had opinions of his own and sometimes expressed them despite the fact that the ANC leadership had not “pronounced” on an issue. Watching President Zuma I got the palpable feeling that the power has shifted decisively from the union buildings to Luthuli House and that instead of constitutional government we now have a party political government.

Our Constitution is silent on the relationship between the executive and the political party in power. While it makes clear that the President is the head of the executive and that the executive governs the country (along with his cabinet members who are all accountable to Parliament), this power is a tenuous one – as Mbeki found out when he was fired.

Because the Constitution also allows the majority party in the National Assembly to “recall” the President by adopting a vote of no confidence against him, the President has no independent power base separate from the party who elected him. Given the fact that members of the National Assembly serve at the pleasure of the party and can be removed from their jobs at any time, the party leadership has a decisive say over members of Parliament, can therefore instruct them to take any action in Parliament and can thus also instruct them to fire the President. Through this threat of removal the party leadership can decide who serves as President and can also ensure that it tells the President how to serve.

President Zuma seems so scared of the party leadership – from Julius Malema down (or is it up?) – that he acts more like an automaton than like the leader of a modern constitutional democracy.

This latter explanation for the President’s embarrassing interview will mitigate against the view that President Zuma is no more than our own Sarah Palin. Let us hope the second explanation is true. Otherwise our President would not only be rather dim-witted (a bit like PW Botha who was definitely not the sharpest tool in the shed), he would also be out of his depth, ignorant and spineless. And if that is the case, we are all in big trouble – unless Kgalema Motlanthe or Gwede Mantashe is really governing the country from behind the scenes, in which case we might not be in as much trouble as it might have seemed from watching the interview.

Why all the fear, paranoia and distrust?

Why do South Africans generally seem so distrustful, fearful, and paranoid of one another? When ANC leaders or supporters do something Helen Zille does not like, she is quick to claim that it is all part of an ANC plot. When someone criticises the appointment of the CEO of the SABC, the MK War veterans claim the CEO is the victim of a plot to undermine both Minister Siphiwe Nyanda and President Jacob Zuma. We also had the “plot” against Schabir Shaik and President Zuma and the many “plots” against then President Thabo Mbeki, not to mention the “plot” by the TAC to poison South Africans with anti-retroviral drugs.

Many South Africans seem to live in constant fear of fellow citizens and believe that fellow citizens are continuously plotting to do them harm. Even legitimate academic curiosity (like asking whether polygamy would be constitutional or not) are turned into a paranoid and defensive fight as it is seen as part of a “plot” to attack or undermine a specific culture or the beliefs of a specific race group.

What’s going on?

Of course, as Alan Arkin once remarked (or was it William Burroughs?) “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you”.  Nevertheless, the South African obsession with plots and the tendency to see a conspiracy under every bush (just like the National Party saw a communist under every bush or under every bed) seems a bit extreme.

One way to explain this paranoid obsession with plots and conspiracies is to argue that those who allude to them do not really believe that there are plots and conspiracies against them and their group, but merely make use of a device to try and shut up criticism to avoid having to justify their crooked or unethical behaviour. By claiming that one is being persecuted, one never has to answer legitimate questions about the criticism or charges levelled against you.

Hence, Hillary Clinton spoke of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” against her husband during the Monica Lewinski scandal. This allowed her and her husband to portray themselves as victims and helped to confuse things so that the public would not remember that Bill Clinton really did have sexual relations with that woman (or to forgive him for it).

Similarly, President Jacob Zuma’s claim that there was a conspiracy against him allowed him never to have to answer a few basic questions regarding the charges brought against him. In President Zuma’s case, this tactic was particularly successful because it seemed rather likely that while evidence about his corrupt relationship with Schabir Shaik was clearly very real, he might well have been singled out for prosecution while others more friendly to then President Thabo Mbeki were never prosecuted.

A second explanation is that many people really have a fundamental misconception of the way in which the right to freedom of expression, the Rule of Law and accountable government are supposed to protect everyone in society from lies, corruption and dishonesty. Leaders are placed on a pedestal (Helen Zille just as much by her supporters as Jacob Zuma by his) and any questions about the wisdom, integrity or ethics of a leader are seen as treasonous attacks on the collective identity of the supporters.

Leaders are often seen (and then begin to see themselves) as not being subject to the same rules and degree of scrutiny as ordinary workers. Because leaders are “important”, “special” or “exulted”, they must be treated in a special manner and should be shown special respect and should be deferred to – no matter what they do or say.

This view flies in the face of what is expected from leaders in a constitutional democracy where leaders are servants of the people (and therefore are not viewed as especially “important” or “special”). In such a democracy leaders should expect to face more (not less) scrutiny, criticism and even ridicule than ordinary citizens who are not servants of the people.

Third, I suspect South Africa’s long history of racial oppression and the struggle for freedom that resulted from it have also warped views and made many of us far more paranoid than we should be. Many white South Africans were scared into supporting the National Party with “Swart Gevaar”, Rooi Gevaar” and sommer any other kind of “Gevaar” tactics, which played into the underlying racism in the white community and made many whites fearful and deeply distrustful of black people in general and black political leaders in particular.

Most if not all black South Africans experienced first hand the racial arrogance, disdain and hatred by many white South Africans and suspect that despite the changes brought about by the transition to democracy, the vast majority of white people harbour an irrational, racist animosity towards them – even if this is now sometimes disguised by politically correct platitudes.

No wonder people do not trust each other and are often prepared to believe the worst of those who criticise them or the leaders they feel emotionally close to. Such feelings are of course exploited by politicians for their own nefarious ends and are exacerbated by the cynical or racist actions of supporters across the political divide.

The important question is of course: how can we get past this paranoia, fear and distrust and arrive at a place where it would become possible to have a relatively reasoned discussion about the merits of leader X or Y without anyone ranting and raving about “plots”, conspiracies” or racism.

Maybe in 2010 we should start a discussion on this important question, because if we fail to answer it, unscrupulous politicians will exploit our fears and hatreds to escape responsibility for their own failings – and all South Africans, but especially poor and marginalised one’s relying on the state to create the conditions for a better life for them and their children, will continue to suffer.

Medical Miracles (ad infinitum)

Schabir Shaik, who was convicted of bribing President Jacob Zuma and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for bribing our President, was unlawfully released from prison on 3 March 2009 on medical parole “to die a dignified death” because he was supposedly in the last stages of a terminal illness. Mr Shaik has now been a free man for more than 250 days after being released for supposedly being at death’s door, which just goes to show that he was released based on lies and deception.

Of course, we know Shaik was not at deaths door (because we saw the report prepared by the doctors who never said that he was in the last stages of a terminal illness), and we thus know for a fact that the parole board released Shaik unlawfully as Shaik did not meet the legal criteria for release.

Meanwhile Shaik has been spotted playing golf (but not – yet – doing what that other famous golfer seems to have been doing over the past few years). A medical miracle indeed.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question by the Democratic Alliance, Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said  last week Shaik was authorised to attend physiotherapy from 10.30am to 12.30pm on the Wednesday when he was spotted on the golf course, which prompts one to wonder whether his physiotherapist might not be an avid golfer.

The newspaper article about him allegedly being spotted playing golf at a club in Durban was brought to his attention and an explanation was requested from him. “Mr Shaik submitted a statement in this regard wherein he refuted the allegation,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

So, let’s get this straight. The Minister is taking at his word, a man who was convicted of fraud and corruption and was found by the trial judge to lack any honesty and credibility. I really have a nice piece of lush forest land in the Karoo I want to sell to the Minister along with shares in a pyramid scheme. Come to think of it, maybe I can get the Minister to ask Father Christmas to bring me a Porsche. (I have always been envious of the Judge President because he drives a Porsche while claiming to care about transformation and the poor.) If she believes Shaik, she must surely also believe in Father Christmas, the tooth fairly and the integrity of the arms deal.

Mapisa-Nqakula also said she had no evidence that the doctors erred in their recommendation to grant Shaik medical parole, nor that the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board erred in its decision. Well, this is unfortunately not true. The Act states that a person has to be in the last stages of a terminal illness and THEN the parole board can consider him or her for release. The doctors never said that Shaik was in the last stages of a terminal illness, hence the parole board erred. The Minister’s claim that there is no evidence that it erred is so preposterous and laughable that it really casts a very dark shadow over the integrity and honesty of our Minister.

It is amazing how some among us would not play fast and loose with the truth in order to ingratiate yourself with The Leader.

We all know Shaik was released because that is what President Zuma wanted. The fact that the release was illegal is just by the by. It has been more than 250 days now since the parole board has first acted unlawfully and since various Ministers have condoned this unlawful actions by providing ridiculous and untrue explanations for the release, for the legal basis of the release and for the reasons not to refer the matter to the parole appeals board.

Nothing will of course be done about this flagrant disregard of the law in order to benefit the man who bribed our President, because in the world of some people the law only applies to ordinary people – not to friends of the President (especially not friends of the President who bribed that President) and definitely not to her holy highness the Minister of Correctional Services.

Wonder how long before we spot Shaik having tea with President Zuma and Julius Malema? Another 250 days perhaps?

Ruling elite not interested in democracy or the Rule of Law?

When EP Thompson, the Marxist historian considered by many to be the greatest British historian of his time, wrote that the Rule of Law was “an unqualified human good”, he created quite a stir. It was an article of faith among Marxists that the law was always used by the ruling class to legitimise its oppression of the working class.Thompson was heavily criticised by fellow Marxists who argued that the Rule of Law was a deeply oppressive concept as it masked the inherent violence deployed by the ruling class to protect their own interests.

But Thompson, it seems to me, was on to something. Although the law is often used to promote and legitimise the interests of the ruling elite and although the law is thus often unjust, the law can also be used as a mechanism to restrain the unbridled and unprincipled exercise of power by the ruling elite.

In South Africa, the Rule of Law is often mentioned by members of the chattering classes who bemoan the fact that some members of the ANC government and some ANC “deployees” to constitutional institutions (such as the NPA and the JSC) show an utter disregard for the law. Yet, the erosion of the Rule of Law affects all of us who do not form part of the ruling elite, a ruling elite which is composed of apartheid era big business, ANC leaders, BEE and other tender millionaires, the Black Lawyers Association and Black Management Forum and other elite institutions with close, mutually beneficial, ties to the government.

In a deeply divided society, in which economic injustice is deeply embedded and a few elites benefit from a parasitic capitalist system to the detriment of the majority of citizens, a semblance of social stability often seems to depend on the ability of the ANC government to paper over the “class contradictions” by deploying a kind of race-nationalism in which the same white big business and its beneficiaries who shared in the spoils of apartheid are held up as the villains against whom all black South Africans had to unite.

In this context, poor, marginalised black citizens do not always buy into the idea that an erosion of the Rule of Law represents a fundamental threat to their potential well-being. However, recent events have reminded us that the Rule of Law is not only to the benefit of the rich. Without it, it will be difficult for real democracy (as opposed to the watered-down Parliamentary version enacted for our benefit by the ANC and the DA) to flourish.

It seems to me real democracy will flourish only if social movements and grassroots activism (in opposition to policies and practices of the ruling elite) can flourish. No wonder some ANC leaders are fearful of social movements and have taken unlawful and dictatorial action to try and blunt the power of such movements. A prime example of such undemocratic, anti-Rule of Law action, is the recent harassment of leaders of Abahlali baseMjondolo in KwaZulu-Natal.

I was reminded of this when I received a press release from the inestimable Prof Stephen Friedman of the Centre for the Study of Democracy who recently hosted a discussion on this topic. The Centre had called the meeting out of a concern that the violence, directed at leaders and members of the Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) shackdwellers’ movement, was politically motivated and designed to drive the movement out of the informal settlement because it was seen as a rival to the African National Congress (ANC) in the area, and because it had launched a Constitutional Court challenge to provincial legislation which gives the provincial government wide powers to force landowners and municipalities to evict informal occupiers.

Part of this statement reads as follows:

The Centre is particularly concerned that the attacks on an independent and peaceful citizens’ organisation have been effectively endorsed by the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Community Safety, Mr Willies Mchunu, and by senior officials of the provincial government. This reinforces the impression that a provincial government is attempting to silence a critical voice in violation of core democratic values.

Discussion at the meeting heightened this concern. The president of AbM, Mr Sbu Zikode, and other leaders of the movement, described how they had been driven into hiding and were now forced to conduct their entirely lawful activities in Kennedy Road in secrecy. AbM leaders told the meeting that they were now forced to operate much as underground anti-apartheid activists had been forced to do before South Africa became a democracy. While our Constitution guarantees every citizen freedom of speech and association and the right to use the courts, AbM appears to have been denied the first and to have been punished for exercising the second. Further, AbM argued that those who have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the attacks and denied bail, are actually victims and are, in effect, political prisoners.

Academic analysts who delivered presentations pointed out that democracy is meant for all citizens, not simply for those who are well-heeled and well-connected. If basic democratic rights are denied to shackdwellers, they warned, South African democracy is in great danger.  If citizens in the suburbs are allowed to speak their mind and criticise government actions and policies but those in the shack settlements are not, our country will, they suggested, lapse back into what it was pre-1994, a state in which some enjoy the right to speak but others do not. The allegations raised about the Kennedy Road violence are therefore extremely serious because they suggest that the democracy which so many fought so hard to achieve is now in danger because some political power-holders are not prepared to tolerate peaceful and legal citizen action if they feel threatened by it.

Participants were obviously aware that the allegations about events at Kennedy Roadremain untested. But all agreed that, given their seriousness, they need urgently to be tested. They added that that the best way to ensure that this happened would be support AbM’s call for an independent and neutral inquiry into the events. At present, a Task Team comprising those who are alleged to be complicit in the attacks has been given the official mandate to investigate. This is obviously unacceptable. The inquiry must be entirely independent and its impartiality should be beyond reproach.

We therefore urge the State President to demonstrate his and government’s commitment to democracy and concern to protect the rights of citizens by urgently appointing such an inquiry.

If President Zuma was a true democrat who respected the Rule of Law, he would agree to the request to institute an inquiry into the events that lead to the Kennedy Road tragedy. If the President fails to do so, one will be hard pressed not to conclude that the narrow economic self-interest of the party elite (in cahoots with big capital and the champions of a kind of middle class transformation), trumps concerns for the plight of the poor. The failure of opposition parties, including the DA, to highlight the plight of social movement leaders also suggests that they do not have the interest of the majority of South Africans at heart.

The ANC always talks about its concern for the poor. Maybe this is true in its own way. The ANC leaders are just MORE concerned about their own fancy cars and lavish lifestyles and the benefits flowing from the BEE tenders for their wives and cousins, than they are for the plight of the poor. In such circumstances, the last thing they would want or encourage is real grassroots democracy.

In a democracy, suckers will be sucked

When someone (like myself!) criticises the President of the day (for making homophobic statements, say, or for appointing a dishonest lackey as head of the prosecuting authority), it is often said that such criticism is wrong because it does not show respect for the incumbent head of state as an individual and also insults the Office that he holds.

Zapiro, for example, has been lambasted for drawing our President with a showerhead on his head while the Presidency appeared to get rather upset when I used intemperate language when criticising his purported appointment of Menzi Simelane as the head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

There are, of course, good strategic reasons for the Presidency to pick fights like this. It can change the public narrative and can divert attention from the real scandals – which would usually be the unlawful or scandalous behaviour of the head of state himself. By creating a scapegoat, supporters of the President who might have a complete lack of understanding of what vigorous debate in an open and democratic society should entail, can be made to forget that their leader has acted in a way not becoming of a person who should enjoy our trust and respect.

Similarly there may be good strategic reasons for not attacking the Head of State in over the top or intemperate language as this provides the Presidency with an opportunity to divert attention from the actions of the Head of State, actions that may appear to be illegal, blatantly self-serving or unconstitutional. Such attacks can also lower the tone of democratic debate and before we know it we might all be speaking in dumbed-down soundbites or utter thuggish threats (like Julius Malema has  a habit of doing) instead of talking about the real issues facing our nation – including poverty, crime and corruption. 

However, if one leaves such strategic considerations aside, there is a more fundamental principle regarding freedom of expression at stake in such cases. The assumption underlying statements by the Presidency and some of his supporters that one has a duty to show respect for the incumbent head of state, both as an individual and for his office, is profoundly anti-democratic.

In a constitutional democracy the Head of State is entitled to LESS respect than the rest of us, not to more respect as the Presidency and some of his supporters sometimes argue.

This is because as the Head of State, the President is also a politician and usually the head of a political party. He has chosen to embark on a career in the public eye that is at the heart of our democracy and what he says and does is of profound importance to our democracy and to our lives. If the President says or does something to endorse homophobic violence, for example, it could embolden others to attack gay men and lesbians whose very lives might be endangered by such action.

As citizens we therefore have a rights and a duty to criticise what the President says and does because without such criticism there can hardly be any talk of real democracy. If we choose to express this criticism in harsh terms or intemperate language we might be strategically dumb. However, it should really be tough luck for the President who should not have chosen a career in politics if he was thin-skinned. Just ask Barack Obama or Tony Bliar, who have both endured extraordinary viscious personal attacks over the years. (When one types “gangster” and “Barack Obama” into Google more than a million hits appear.) As my Mother used to say: “If you are a sucker you must be prepared to be sucked.”

It might be strategically dumb to call the President a gangster, but it is not necessarily unlawful or unacceptable.

Some might argue that my view cannot be squared with “African tradition” as us Africans have a culture of respecting our leaders – no matter what they do or say. (Obviously Julius Malema will not make this argument, but that is a story for another day.) They would be wrong.

You do not have to take my word for it. Instead I could refer you to a 1998 opinion of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights which dealt with just such a case. The African Commission was set up in terms of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which South Africa has signed and ratified and is bound by, and the Commission can hear individual complaints of human rights abuses by African states and can issue authoritative findings about breaches of the African Charter.

In Media Rights Agenda, Constitutional Rights Project, Media Rights Agenda and Constitutional Rights Project vs Nigeria the Commission had to deal with the actions of the then military dictatorship in Nigeria when 50,000 copies of TELL magazine were seized by heavily armed policemen and other security officers on the printer’s premises. That week’s issue was entitled: “The Return of Tyranny – Abacha bares his fangs”. The story involved a critical analysis of certain legislation enacted by the military government which ousts the jurisdiction of the courts. The magazine had in effect called the head of state a tyrant and so action was taken against them.

The Commission had to interpret article 9 of the African Charter which states that “every individual shall have the right to receive information”; and “every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law”. It found that the Nigerian government had breached this article:

In the present case, the government has provided no evidence that seizure of the magazine was for any other reason than simple criticism of the government.  The article in question might have caused some debate and criticism of the government, but there seems to have been no information threatening to, for example, national security or public order in it. All of the legislation criticized in the article was already known to members of the public information, as laws must be, in order to be effective.

The only person whose reputation was perhaps tarnished by the article was the head of state.  However, in the lack of evidence to the contrary, it should be assumed that criticism of the government does not constitute an attack on the personal reputation of the head of state. People who assume highly visible public roles must necessarily face a higher degree of criticism than private citizens; otherwise public debate may be stifled altogether. It is important for the conduct of public affairs that opinions critical of the government be judged according to whether they represent a real danger to national security.

The African Commission is therefore of the view that unless statements critical of a Head of State threaten national security (by inciting the overthrow of the government, say) they are protected by the right to freedom of expression. Ridiculing the Head of State by, say, drawing him with a showerhead on his head can never be said to  threaten national security.

Of course, a Head of State can embark on a politically highly risky strategy of instituting a defamation claim against the person who criticised or ridiculed him, but then – as often happens with defamation cases – the President himself will be subjected to judicial scrutiny – which could backfire quite badly. Just ask Ronald Suresh Roberts.

Simelane: more unanswered questions

Why did Minister Jeff Radebe fail to address what appears to be one of the most egregious acts of dishonesty on the part of Adv Menzi Simelane? In his half-hearted defense of Adv Simelani, Radebe failed to explain why Simelane did not produce a letter, written by then President Thabo Mbeki to the then Minister of Justice regarding the Jackie Selebi case – even after being lawfully requested to do so.

On 22 October 2007 Vusi Pikoli’s lawyers wrote a letter to Adv Menzi Simelani, then Director General in the Department of Justice. The letter stated, inter alia:

May we please have copies of all communications and other documents relating the investigation and prosecution of Mr Selebi  which you or your Department may have sent to or received from the president or anyone in the Presidency at any time since 15 September….

This request seems pretty clear. Any half-way honest person would have understood what it meant. It must be conceded that a careless or overworked person might not have provided all the documents as requested because of an oversight or negligence.

A dishonest person, on the other hand, would have deliberately chosen not to provide all the documents as requested or would have followed instructions from his boss to be dishonest and to lie. Unless something far more sinister is at work here, Adv Simelane’s failure to produce this letter – a failure curiously not addressed by Radebe at all – suggests that he is a man who will deliberately try to mislead legal opponents by hiding information lawfully requested by them in order to protect the President.

During cross examination Simelane first conceded that the letter allegedly written by thenPresident Mbeki falls squarely within the ambit of documents requested. Yet Simelane wrote back after the request mentioned above was received and stated as follows:

We are not in posession of any documents relating to the investigation of the National Commissioner of Police, save for reports prepared by your client [Pikoli].

When first asked by Trengove why the letter was not produced Simelane said:

Well, I wasn’t informed about the letter, I became aware of the letter much later.

But later Simelane conceded that he was aware of the letter, which means his first statement was not truthful. Although he had not read it, Simelane claimed, he knew the President had sent a letter to the Minister. It was this very letter which led to the writing of another letter by Simelane which was later signed by the Minister (ordering Pikoli to stop the arrest of Selebi).  Yet he did not provide Pikoli’s lawyers with the letter as requested. Worse, he stated that there was no such documents in their possession.

When confronted about this, Simelane again changed his story and said that he did not think the letter by the President, requesting more information on the Selebi matter, related in any way to the investigation against Mr Selebi. This is unfortunately not a line of argument that could reasonably be pursued without losing every shred of credibility one might have had as a witness.

Trengove then pounces:

Trengove: You said: we have no such documents in our possession. And I want to know who decided to tell that lie. You or the Minister?

Later Simelane contradicts himself yet again and tells another wopper when he says:

No, we didn’t, we didn’t deny that the letter was there.

This is of course not correct. Simelane had written to Pikoli’s lawyers denying that there were any documents relating to the Selebi investigation in the posession of the Department. Yet the President’s letter – which he admitted he was aware of – dealt directly with the Selebi investigation. With Adv Trengove we should ask: Did Simelane decided to lie of his own accord or was he instructed to lie by the Minister, the President or any legal advisor of the President?

What makes this so curious is that the letter allegedly written by then President Mbeki to the Minister of Justice one day before the Minister of Justice signed a letter drafted by Simelane instructing Pikoli not to proceed with the arrest of Selebi does not contain the smoking gun evidence Pikoli had hoped for. The content of the Ministers letter, which contained the unlawful instruction to Pikoli not to proceed with the arrest of Selebi, seems to go much further than the request contained in Mbeki’s letter, which merely asked for more information on the Selebi case (information, we now know, which the President had already been given by Pikoli).

A conspiracy theory is doing the rounds that Simelane had not produced the letter because it contained an illegal instruction from then President Mbeki to have the arrest of Selebi stopped. According to this theory, another letter was conjured up after the fact when it became clear that it would have had to be produced to the Ginwala inquiry.

I am not sure I buy this. Surely Mbeki and his advisers would not have deliberately concocted fake evidence to escape responsibility for their unlawful actions? A more plausible explanation is that Simelane decided to lie about the existence of the letter because it showed that the suspension of Pikoli was directly related to the pending arrest of Selebi. At the time, President Mbeki had denied that the suspension of Pikoli had anything to do with the impending arrest of Selebi and this letter provided proof that Mbeki’s claim could not be sustained.

To protect the person who had appointed him, Simelane then misled Pikoli and the Inquiry by not producing the letter written by the President – despite being requested to do so and despite having a legal duty to do so.

Minister Radebe failed to explain why this action by Simelane does not warrant disciplinary action against Simelane. This is because there is no plausible explanation for this failure to produce evidence which Simelane had a legal duty to hand over.

This sorry tale provides more proof that Simelane is a man who is so loyal to his political bosses that he would try to hide the existence of evidence that would make his boss look bad. No wonder he was purportedly appointed by President Jacob Zuma as National Director of Public Prosecutions. With such a guy heading the NPA, President Zuma clearly has nothing to worry about on the legal front – even if the decision to drop charges against him is declared invalid.

What would Simelane NOT do to protect the President from prosecution?

Menzi Simelani, the alleged Advocate which President Jacob Zuma has purported to appoint as National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) seems to have contempt for the Constitution, the Constitutional Court and the law in general. He believes that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is not independent and should take instructions from the Minister and the President on how to deal with politically sensitive cases. He holds the view that the NPA’s independence is not guaranteed by the Constitution, a view contradicted by the Constitution as interpreted by the Constitutional Court.

The following exchange between Wim Trengove and Simelane reveals much about how Simelane sees the role of the NPA and his lack of respect for judgements of the Constitutional Court:

TRENGOVE: I see. The NDPP also enjoys Constitutional independence in the exercise of his powers and the performance of his functions, correct?

SIMELANE: It’s been argued so, yes.

TRENGOVE: I beg your pardon.

SIMELANE: It’s been argued so, yes he does.

TRENGOVE: It’s been argued so?


TRENGOVE: No, it’s not being argued, the Constitution says so, correct?

SIMELANE: It says what?

TRENGOVE: It says that the – are you not acquainted with the Constitutional entrenchment of the independence of the NPA?

SIMELANE: I have heard arguments to that effect.

In other words, Simelane is saying here that ONE possible view (“I have heard arguments to that effect”!) is that the NPA is independent, but that he clearly does not share that view. His view was demonstrated by his drafting of a letter – later signed by the Minister of Justice – which illegally purported to order Vusi Pikoli not to proceed with the arrest of Jackie Selebi. Mr Simelane thus believes the NDPP must take orders from the Minister of Justice – even if this constitutes a criminal offence – and that the NPA does not enjoy any independence from the executive.

This belief is of course not only spectacularly wrong. It is also highly dangerous. A NDPP who holds such views is a NDPP who one fears may illegally take instructions from the Minister or the President to prosecute or not prosecute individuals (like the President himself!) depending on whether such a prosecution would be politically or personally advantageous for the President or not.  If charges against President Zuma are reinstated, the President will merely have to issue an illegal order to him to drop the charges and Mr Simelane may very well obey that illegal order – unless he has changed his mind about the independence of the NPA since his humiliation before the Ginwala Inquiry.

Later on in the exchange between Trengove and Simelane, Simelane reveals his utter contempt for the Constitutional Court.

TRENGOVE: The question is do you not understand that section to be a Constitutional guarantee of independence?

SIMELANE: No I don’t read it that way.

TRENGOVE: I see. And if Mr Pikoli suggests that it is, do you say that he is wrong?

SIMELANE: I would argue with him about it’s meaning, if that’s what he said.

TRENGOVE: I see. So your fundamental difference with him is that he contends that the Constitution guarantees the independence of the NPA while you dispute it, correct?

SIMELANE: I dispute that the Constitution says so.

TRENGOVE: I see. Can I tell you what the Constitutional Court says about it Mr Simelane and I am reading from the certification judgment where the Constitutional Court certified the Constitution, in paragraph 146 in which they referred to this provision of the Constitution Section 179(4). The Constitutional Court says the following:

 “Section 179(4) provides that the national legislation must ensure that the Prosecuting Authority exercises its functions without fear, favour or prejudice.”

And then please listen to the next sentence:

 “There is accordingly a Constitutional guarantee of independence and any legislation or executive action inconsistent therewith would be subject to Constitutional control by the courts.”

So the Constitutional Court agrees with Mr Pikoli, Mr Simelane, correct?


TRENGOVE: The Constitutional Court agreed with Mr Pikoli.

SIMELANE: Yes the Constitutional Court yes.

TRENGOVE: And it contradicts you, correct.

SIMELANE: Yes I would say it does in that respect yes.

TRENGOVE: Yes indeed. How dare you – (pause)

SIMELANE: I beg your pardon?

TRENGOVE: How dare you take on Mr Pikoli to the point of accusing him of impropriety and contending that he is (not) fit for office when in fact you haven’t read what the Constitutional Court has said about this section?

So our President has purported to appoint a NDPP who is either scandalously ignorant about the meaning of the Constitution as interpreted by the Constitutional Court  (hardly likely as he had requested an opinion of Senior Counsel which must surely have included reference to the Constitutional Court case) or he is contemptuous of the Constitutional Court and believes that his own interpretation of the Constitution trumps that of the Constitutional Court (rather more likely, given that we know Mr Simelane purported to order Pikoli to stop the arrest of Selebi despite having read opinion of senior counsel that the NPA is independent).

The irresistible inference must therefore be drawn that Simelane was appointed as NDPP because he has shown himself to be contemptuous of the Constitution and the Constitutional Court and willing to lie and deceive to please his political masters. What will he do (within or outside the bounds of the law) to prevent our President from ever standing trial? Obviously our President thinks he will do almost anything (legal and illegal) to protect our President from prosecution.

No wonder the President purported to appoint him as NDPP.

Neither fit nor proper

President Jacob Zuma has a wide – but not unlimited – discretion to appoint the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP). By purporting to appoint Adv Menzi Simelane as NDPP, President Zuma acted unlawfully because Simelane clearly does not meet the requirements for the job as stipulated by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Act.

The Constitution requires that the NDPP must be appropriately qualified and the NPA Act defines “appropriate qualification” as somebody who is: (i) a South Africa citizen; (ii) possesses legal qualifications that would entitle him or her to practice in all Courts in the Republic; and (iii) must be a fit and proper person, with due regard to his or her experience, conscientiousness and integrity to be entrusted with the responsibilities of the office concerned.

As the Ginwala Inquiry made clear:

What the Act also envisages is that the incumbent must be a person of experience, integrity and conscientiousness to be entrusted with the responsibilities of the office of the NDPP…. The notion of integrity is one that does not attract much debate in this case. The notion relates to the character of a person – honesty, reliability, truthfulness and uprightness.

Unfortunately, we know from the Report of the Ginwala Inquiry that Simelane is not honest. Neither is he reliable, nor does he possess the necessary truthfulness and uprightness required by the Act. His appointment is therefore not legally valid as he does not meet the MINIMUM requirements for the job.

Simelane was the main witness of the government during the Inquiry but he showed himself to be a liar with a lack of understanding of his job and a willingness to mislead the Inquiry to achieve specific, politically required, ends.

The Ginwala Inquiry found that Simelane had misled the Inquiry by hiding from it the fact that he had obtained a legal opinion which contradicted his own views on the nature of the relationship between the Department of Justice and the NDPP. He only conceded that there was indeed such a legal opinion when he was confronted with this fact by Adv Wim Trengrove during cross examination. Ginwala states:

The DG: Justice had an incorrect understanding of his accounting responsibilities under the PFMA, despite being in possession of legal opinions from senior counsel explaining the ambit of his responsibilities. He allowed the Minister to continue with an incorrect understanding of the responsibilities of the NDPP.

Simelane had also drafted a letter – later signed by then Justice Minister, Brigitte Mbandla – which instructed Pikoli not to proceed with the arrest of Jackie Selebi. This instruction was clearly illegal and constituted a criminal offense in terms of the NPA Act. As Ginwala tactfully put it:

the conduct of the DG: Justice in drafting the document in the manner it reads was reckless to say the least. The DG: Justice should have been acutely aware of the constitutional protection afforded to the NPA to conduct its work without fear, favour or prejudice. The contents of the letter were tantamount to executive interference with the prosecutorial independence of the NPA, which is recognised as a serious offence in the Act…..

Ginwala also found that Simelane was not a man of honesty and integrity as he had made statements that were false and presented legal positions that were untenable:

I must express my displeasure at the conduct of the DG: Justice in the preparation of Government’s submissions and in his oral testimony which I found in many respects to be inaccurate or without any basis in fact and law. He was forced to concede during cross-examination that the allegations he made against Adv Pikoli were without foundation.

In the light of the above it is very difficult to sustain the fiction that Simelane is even remotely a person who could be called “fit and proper”. He is not honest. He is not reliable. He is not truthful. What counts in Simelane’s favour is that his view of the NPA – not shared by Ginwala, senior counsel or by any person who has read the Act and the Constitution –  is that the NPA is not independent, that the NPA should take instructions from the Minister of Justice and the President – even in making decisions on individual cases – and hence that the NPA is a tool in the hands of the government to do with it as it pleases.

No wonder President Zuma purported to appoint him. With Simelane at the helm, no one will ever again be prosecuted if the President and the Minister does not give the go-ahead. If this appointment is allowed to stand, it will bring an end to even the pretense that the constitutional guarantee that the NDPP must act without fear, favour or prejudice, will be adhered to.

This is the darkest and most scandalous day yet in the short life of President Zuma’s tenure. The appointment shows an utter disregard for the Constitution and the law. It is nothing more than the actions of a gangster hell bent on protecting himself and his cronies. I feel ashamed that I have given our President the benefit of the doubt for all these months.

Privacy? Security? Oh ple-e-ease!

Sometimes a politician says something so daft and indefensible that one cannot but wonder whether he or she thinks ordinary voters are complete and utter fools. Maybe this does not surprise many people because they have come to expect that politicians will lie to them. But being an eternal optimist – one of the few paid up member of the chattering classes in South Africa who seemingly still believe that voters are, as a general rule, not nearly as stupid as politicians believe they are – it really irritates the hell out of me.

That is why the reasons given by National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu for not releasing a “detailed breakdown” of all MPs travel records to provide evidence that the system is being milked, seem so preposterous. ID Leader, Patricia de Lille claims that MPs with distant homes and constituencies are are allegedly skimming off up to R40 000 a month in travel claims by using their cars for journeys that would be cheaper by plane and requested the details from Sisulu to back up her claims.

Sisulu refused, saying that while he supported De Lille’s attempts to expose alleged abuse, disclosing travel records could infringe on MPs’ right to privacy and “pose a security risk” to them.

He might as well have said: “Yes they are stealing us blind and I do not want to public to know this, so I am not going to give you details of MPs travel records.” At least that would have been honest.

Let us get this straight: we pay MP’s to visit their constituencies to do what they have been elected to do, namely to represent us and to look after our interests. (This, at least, is the theory, but because of our pure proportional representation electoral system, many MP’s do not really represent anyone. I for one would love to know which MP represents me, but even when I phoned the local ANC office they could not or would not tell me and refused to answer any questions about my Parliamentary representative.)

But according to our Speaker we are not allowed to know how much we pay our MP’s to visit us because this would infringe their privacy and pose a security risk. How dare we ask. Next thing we would demand to actually speak to our MP’s when they visit us and this might infringe on their right to privacy and might pose a security risk to them. Who the hell do we think we are!

This is utterly ridiculous.

The Constitutional Court has stated that the protection of the right to privacy could be understood by thinking of privacy rights in terms of an onion. There are layers of privacy and the closer one gets to the inner sanctum of an individual’s life (the core of the onion, so to speak), the more strictly will privacy rights be protected. Conversely, the closer one gets to the public life and duties of an individual the weaker the privacy protection.

In terms of this metaphor, the details of MP’s travel arrangements when they travel to their constituencies with our money to represent us can be viewed as the outer skin of the onion. MP’s are exercising a public function for which they are paid with public money when they embark on such travel. Hence there is absolutely no privacy rights involved here that needs to be protected.

There is of course a right involved here, but not the right to privacy brandished by Sisulu. The right here is the right of all citizens to know whether the money we spent on our public representatives to perform a public function for our benefit, is spent wisely, or whether the system is being abused by our elected representatives and whether some of them might not have  committed a crime by defrauding Parliament.

Simple really.

Because Sisulu’s statement is so ludicrous, I will assume that it amounts to an admission that some MP’s have indeed abused the system, have defrauded Parliament and should be tried for fraud.

On Julius Malema, HIV and democracy

I must admit it made a welcome change: Instead of cringing with embarrassment, I sat at the traffic light and gave a little cheer when I heard on the radio what ANC Youth League President Julius Malema had said about HIV/AIDS.  Speaking at the Pan African Youth Union, Malema said it is up to Africa’s youth to stop the spread of HIV/Aids. He called on the continent’s youth to promote safe sex, the use of condoms and the proper use of anti-retroviral medication and continued:

Ours should be about ensuring that condoms become fashionable. Every time you greet each other you must ask, how are you? Do you have a condom with you? It should not be an apologetic issue.

Maybe if someone as outspoken and popular as Julius Malema puts his full weight (so to speak) behind a campaign to make condoms fashionable and urges young people to insist on condom use we have a chance to turn this thing around. Maybe if Malema and others drop the ridiculous and counter-productive notion that we will stop the spread of HIV if we promote the ABC (“abstain”, or “be faithful” and if you cannot do the above “use a condom” – in other words, insist on a condom if you want everyone to think you are promiscuous), we have a chance.

Of course, our leaders should have said this kind of things many years ago, before hundreds of thousands of people had died needlessly of HIV related illnesses. But I suppose its better late than never, so I will be the first to applaud Mr Malema and to encourage him to continue the good work.

But then, another publication reported that at the same event, commenting on the call by Young Communist League leader Buti Manamela that Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Thabo Mbeki should be charged with genocide for not providing dying South Africans with anti-retroviral drugs, Mr Malema said the following:  

We must never surrender our leaders.  Thabo Mbeki might have made mistakes but we can never charge him. We must not charge one of our own. If we allow that, the same thing would happen to [Zimbabwean President Robert] Mugabe, and the same would happen to [President Jacob] Zuma, and the next thing you know they will come for you.

Now, I do not want to get involved in a debate here on whether Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang should be charged with genocide and whether such a charge against them would stick. I do wish to take issue with young Julius’s view on the Rule of Law though. Saying that one should never charge one of your own is dangerous and undermines the Constitution and the Rule of Law.

Our leaders, no matter how well respected and loved, are not above the law. If they break the law they have to be charged. Just like every other South African – whether she lives in Houghton or Lusikisiki, Bischops Court or Pofadder, Witsieshoek or Nkandla – a leader in a constitutional democracy is not above the law.

Suggesting that leaders – because they are our leaders – should never be charged with any crime, no matter how heinous that leader’s actions have been, how detrimental to the poor and downtrodden, how murderous or anti-democratic, demonstrates a profoundly undemocratic and anti- constitutional view of politics.

This is the kind of view that allows young politicians like Julius Malema to jump out of his car in a dazed state and express his existential confusion by urgently asking those who stopped him to please tell him who he was. It is the kind of view which holds that leaders are beyond criticism and that even if they do the most shocking things, they should be above the law. Down that road lies tyranny, despotism and the most egregious abuses of the rights of ordinary citizens by powerful leaders: it is the way of Pol Pot, Adolt Hitler and Idi Amin.

In a constitutional state, leaders should actually be beyond reproach. If we are going to charge anyone it should be our leaders who have broken the law.  In a constitutional democracy we entrust them with our money, our well-being and our futures and if they abuse that trust by stealing our money, killing political opponents or ordering the police to torture the leaders of social movements who are critical of them, such leaders seize being worthy of our respect and, in effect, seize being our leaders at all.

What worries me is that Julius sees himself as a leader as well and hence believes that he is also above the law. No wonder he has failed to pay so many speeding fines and called his friends in government to reprimand traffic cops who had the audacity to stop him for speeding. Today it is traffic fines, tomorrow it is hit squads and torture.

Ag nee man Julius, just when I thought the media had been treating you harshly you say something like this which reminds me that you have a lot to learn about constitutional democracy and the Rule of Law. Stick to the condoms and  HIV: at least you are doing good work on that front.