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
25 March 2008

Conspiracy theories and that trip to Angola

South Africa is a great place for anyone with an interest in conspiracy theories. There are so many of them flying around: if it is not Mr Jacob Zuma being framed by President Thabo Mbeki for taking a bribe, its Judge President John Hlophe being framed for exposing racism on the bench. And then there was the trips of both Zuma and Mbeki to Mauriatius just as the legal battle for the release of some crucial documents in Mr Zuma’s trial hotted up.

I am a bit of a skeptic myself, but even I sometimes start to wonder whether some of these theories might not have some legs. I mean, Mr Zuma was charged for the first time shortly after being released from his position as Deputy President of the country and just after the head of the National Prosecuting Authority traveled with President Mbeki to South America. This may all be innocent co-incidence but it does look rather suspicious.

Now I see Mr Jacob Zuma has just returned from a four day trip to Angola where he had a high-level meeting with Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos. Business Day delicately reports on the matter in the following terms:

Addressing the media at OR Tambo International Airport shortly after landing in Dos Santos’s private aircraft last night, Zuma, flanked by several ANC national executive committee members, said the party had agreed to “step up” economic investment in Angola. “We will discuss, in the ANC, how to move forward with this agreement,” Zuma said.

It is understood that a Zuma presidency intends paving the way for South African business to invest in Angola in the mining, agricultural and construction industries.

Zuma’s overtures signal a departure from Mbeki’s approach, which was characterised by frosty relations between Pretoria and Luanda.

So Mr Zuma was flown to Angola in the Angolan President’s private jet, had high level talks with him, and then came back to announce South Africa will in future have far warmer relations with the Angolan government. This is remarkable because Mr Zuma is not yet the President of the country and does not make police for the South African government, so the trip is presented as a slap in the face for lame-duck President Mbeki.

But there is another reason why this trip is remarkable and it is called the “Browse Mole Report”. The report, authored by the Scorpions, outlines evidence that the Angolan intelligence establishment planned covertly to support former deputy president Jacob Zuma in his presidency bid. The report has been rubbished by Parliament and other sources, which is a good thing, otherwise even skeptics like myself would start wondering about the timing of Mr Zuma’s trip.

What is interesting is that despite the allegations contained in the “Browse Mole” Report, Mr Zuma did not see anything wrong with traveling to Angola in its President’s private jet and on his return announcing that a new era in relations between the two governments is on the cards.

A more sensitive and wise soul might have thought twice about doing this because he might have known that this would give credence to a report which has been roundly condemned. Can it possibly be true that some of the evidence in the discredited report are not as far off the mark as previously thought? Did Mr Zuma actually get help from the Angolan’s for his bid of the Presidency of the ANC?

These are the bizarre questions invariably posed by such a trip. That Mr Zuma could not have foreseen that the conspiracy theory machine would jump onto this or that he thought it did not matter, is rather revealing methinks. Is it possible that now he has become ANC leader he will become just as blithely cavalier about perceptions created by his actions as the incumbent?

Who knows? All I know is that I will continue to believe no one about anything regarding the succession battle or regarding the arms deal, because there seems so much misinformation out there that it is impossible to know what is going on. A wiser politician might have realised though that a rumour only needs a bitof a push before itwould be believed by those who wish to believe it.

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