Quote of the week

An ‘important purpose of section 34 [of the Constitution] is to guarantee the protection of the judicial process to persons who have disputes that can be resolved by law’ and that the right of access to court is ‘foundational to the stability of an orderly society. It ensures the peaceful, regulated and institutionalised mechanisms to resolve disputes, without resorting to self-help. The right of access to court is a bulwark against vigilantism, and the chaos and anarchy which it causes. Construed in this context of the rule of law and the principle against self-help in particular, access to court is indeed of cardinal importance’.The right guaranteed s34 would be rendered meaningless if court orders could be ignored with impunity:the underlying purposes of the right — and particularly that of avoidance of self-help — would be undermined if litigants could decide which orders they wished to obey and which they wished to ignore.

Plasket AJ
Victoria Park Ratepayers' Association v Greyvenouw CC and others (511/03) [2003] ZAECHC 19 (11 April 2003)
23 February 2007

Are there limits to criticism of politicians?

Aubrey Matshiqi has a thoughtful piece in this morning’s Business Day on limits to criticism of President Thabo Mbeki (he says the only limit is that one should not intentionally tell untruths about the man). He reminds us that Mbeki himself has said when asked about protesters burning T-shirts with his face on, that we live in a free country and that those protesters were exercising their democratic right.

In the same newspaper there is a report about Cabinet taking umbrage at the “personal” nature of the comments about the health of Minister Manto TshabalalaMsimang. In line with an article in the Cape Times on Wednesday by her spokesperson, the Cabinet seems to suggest that it is off limits to speculate on her health. Without conclusive proof of her bad health we must shut up.

But in a democracy the health of the Health Minister – especially one who touts the use of garlic, olive oil and the African potato – is of intense interest to us all and newspapers have a duty to inform us about it. If one is a public servant (and that is what Ministers are supposed to be – servants of the people), one unfortunately will be scrutinised. To complain about that scrutiny as the Cabinet does is to complain about one of the essential and important elements of a democracy.

Of course, one would hope that speculation and opinion would be within the boundaries of basic decency. One would not want to treat the Minister with the same contempt and even hatred that she had treated her enemies in the past. So when the DA spokesperson said that the Minister should be fired before she died in office it was perhaps too insensitive.

Nevertheless, we have a right and the newspapers have a duty to inform us about the Health Minister’s health. The Minister or her officials act in a profoundly undemocratic way if they suggest newspapers should not speculate on her health and must believe the completely implausible denials of bad health.

My motto is: as soon as a goverment spokesperson denies something, one should become suspicious because when they start denying something there is probably some truth to the matter.

SHARE:     
BACK TO TOP
2015 Constitutionally Speaking | website created by Idea in a Forest