Quote of the week

As seductive as certain perspectives of international law may appear to those who disagree with the outcome of the interpretative exercise conducted by this Court in the contempt judgment, sight must not be lost of the proper place of international law, especially in respect of an application for rescission. The approach that my Brother adopts may be apposite in the context of an appeal, where a court is enjoined to consider whether the court a quo erred in its interpretation of the law. Although it should be clear by now, I shall repeat it once more: this is not an appeal, for this Court’s orders are not appealable. I am deeply concerned that seeking to rely on articles of the ICCPR as a basis for rescission constitutes nothing more than sophistry.

Khampepe J
Zuma v Secretary of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector Including Organs of State and Others (CCT 52/21) [2021] ZACC 28 (17 September 2021)
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.

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