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
17 July 2007

Zuma’s double standard

Is it just me or has Mr. Jacob Zuma once again demonstrated spectacular double standards regarding the criminal justice system? In an interview with the SABC last week Zuma argued that criminals seem to have too many rights and that they should not be let out on bail as easily as they are.

But I always thought Mr. Zuma was of the firm belief that every person is “innocent until proven guilty? He has said so often enough.

But if one is innocent until proven guilty one should surely not be locked up until one is convicted of a crime – unless it is very clear that one poses a danger to society? And that is exactly what the rules on bail (properly interpreted) now provides for.

Why tighten up bail laws unless one is of the view that, yes, all people are innocent until proven guilty but some are more innocent than others.

The problem with this mantra, of course, is that unless one is called Jacob Zuma or is a politician with strong connections to an influential political party, one is never innocent until proven guilty.

Dina Rodriguez was never thought of by Mr. Zuma or anyone else as innocent until she was convicted. And let’s face it, I would be rather surprised to hear that Mr. Zuma has always been of the firm view that Wouter Basson was innocent and remains innocent because he was never convicted of a crime.

This is why I have such a bee in my bonnet about the way this principle – which is based on the notion that one must be presumed innocent by a court of law until the state has proven the case against one – is abused by politicians.

Mr. Zuma and others have been using this important legal principle to try and stop ordinary people from making value judgments about their character. In effect they claim that our standards for judging a politician must be lowered to such a degree that we can only criticize them in any way after they have been convicted of a crime.

But there is no legal reason why members of the public – as opposed to judges hearing a case – cannot make adverse assumptions about the character of, say, Mr. Zuma or Judge President John Hlophe or Robert McBride.

By indicating that bail conditions should be tightened for others who are also “innocent until proven guilty”, Mr. Zuma is really showing his hand. What he believes in (like most politicians caught with their hands in the till or their pants down – is that he is innocent even if proven guilty.

Criminals on the other hand – those who were charged correctly – must be locked up even before they are convicted.

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