Quote of the week

Although judicial proceedings will generally be bound by the requirements of natural justice to a greater degree than will hearings before administrative tribunals, judicial decision-makers, by virtue of their positions, have nonetheless been granted considerable deference by appellate courts inquiring into the apprehension of bias. This is because judges ‘are assumed to be [people] of conscience and intellectual discipline, capable of judging a particular controversy fairly on the basis of its own circumstances’: The presumption of impartiality carries considerable weight, for as Blackstone opined at p. 361 in Commentaries on the Laws of England III . . . ‘[t]he law will not suppose possibility of bias in a judge, who is already sworn to administer impartial justice, and whose authority greatly depends upon that presumption and idea’. Thus, reviewing courts have been hesitant to make a finding of bias or to perceive a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of a judge, in the absence of convincing evidence to that effect.

L'Heureux-Dube and McLachlin JJ
Livesey v The New South Wales Bar Association [1983] HCA 17; (1983) 151 CLR 288
21 December 2006

ANC, criticism and democracy

The letter from the editor published on ANC Today last Friday is quite revealing. To my mind it inadvertently shows some in the ANC to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of democracy.

For example, it complains about reporting on the Gautrain and criticism of President Mbeki using the so called race card to answer his critics, and says:

[O]ur allies, the SACP and COSATU, made absolutely no effort to contact us to check the veracity of the allegations originally made by the Sunday Times, which consciously and deliberately sought to project some of our leaders, and the ANC as a whole, as a corruptive force deeply embedded in our body politic.

The underlying assumption here is that the ANC will always be honest when asked to respond about corruption and we should therefore trust them. Ifw e do not trust them we are horrible racists.

But in a democracy, we have a right NOT to trust politicians and political parties. Should Americans have trusted Richard Nixon or George Bush? Should the Brits have trusted Tony Blair or Margareth Thatcher? Of course not. Politicians and political parties lie to serve their own interest. The ANC has shown that it is no different.

Its only in a totalitarian state where one is forced to “trust” the rulers. In a democracy we have a right to question and even to ridicule our rulers and their political parties. The ANC is no different despite their struggle credentials because they are also now a government party and therefore need not be trusted.

The letter also responds to criticism of President Thabo Mbeki’s style of debate. Cosatu complained that he does not deal with the real issues but tends to label and ridicule his opponents to which the editors say:

[I]n the event that a robust debate arises affecting any issue, those involved must not expect that they can unilaterally lay down rules prescribing what constitutes legitimate argument, principally to limit the possibility for the ANC and the government to defend themselves.

But that does not answer the criticism. Instead of addressing the question posed by Cosatu, it merely states that the President can argue in any way he wants to. It’s the equivalent of shouting na-na-na while sticking out your tounge at the other boys on the playground! Its infantile and arrogant at the same time.

The real question is whether it is good tactics and whether it is good for democracy for a President to call others names instead of actually answering their criticism?

I would suspect that it is neither. By using race as an all-encompassing weapon to intimidate and ridicule those who criticise the ANC, President Mbeki is de-legitimising real debate on racism. Because he is claiming that any criticism of the ANC is by its very nature racist. In the long run we will just all start laughing at him when he uses the R word.

Racism is a real issue and President Mbeki makes excellent points about how racism is embedded in our society. But people will stop listening to him if he uses this insight to try and stop anyone from ever criticising the ANC. In that way he is misusing racism for his own narrow party political purposes.

This is a rather sad development. Let’s hope 2007 will be the year when some of the good leaders in the ANC stand up to challenge this kind of clap trap.

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