Quote of the week

It is necessary that the integrity of the electoral process be maintained. Indeed, the acceptance of the election as being free and fair depends upon that integrity. Elections must not only be free and fair but they must be perceived as being free and fair. Even-handedness in dealing with all political parties and candidates is crucial to that integrity and its perception by voters. The Commission must not be placed in a situation where it has to make ad hoc decisions about political parties and candidates who have not complied with the Act. The requirement that documents must be submitted to the local offices of the Commission does not undermine the right to vote and to stand for election. It simply gives effect to that right and underscores the decentralised and local nature of municipal elections.

Ngcobo CJ
Electoral Commission of the Republic of South Africa v Inkatha Freedom Party
11 December 2007

Ginwala probe: more questions

It only warranted a small item in the Citizen newspaper. No mention of it in the Fishing Village rag, the Cape Times. Although ETV made a meal of it and called the Minister of Justices’ explanation extraordinary. I would have called it troubling and bizarre.

It all started when Freedom Front Plus MP, Willie Spies, recalled that he had seen Justice Minister Brigit Mabandla and ex-Speaker, Frene Ginwala in business class on the same plane on 20 September this year. Ginwala was of course appointed by President Thabo Mbeki to head the commission of inquiry into the fitness for office of the National Prosecuting Authority’s suspended head, Vusi Pikoli.

As it happens, Pikoli was suspsended on 24 September, five days after Mabandla and Ginwala was seen together on the plane. Spies posed a written parliamentary question about this and bizarrely Mabandla said she “did not recall” whether she and Ginwala had shared a South African Airways flight on September 20.

Spies also enquired whether Mabandla and Ginwala had attended any meetings together between September 19 and Pikoli’s suspension on September 24 this year but the Minister has so far declined to answer. GInwala’s office has also declined to comment on the matter.

As Spies remarked, a simple yes or no from either office would have sufficed to clear the issue. The fact that Mabandla now claims not to remember whether she was on the same plane and has declined to say whether she attended a meeting with Ginwala suggests either that Mabandla has been spending far too much time with the Minister of Health and is destined for an emergency liver transplant any day, or that she is lying through her teeth and that her memory lapse is a political rather than mental one.

It would, of course, be rather inconvenient if it would to transpire that the Minister of Justice – who is the official complainant in the Pikoli matter – and the head of the commission appointed to investigate whether Pikoli was fit to hold office – had a meeting shortly before the President had suspended Mr Pikoli. It would suggest that the Ginwala inquiry was a set-up with a pre-determined outcome and that the Minister, the President and Ginwala had acted in a disgraceful manner.

It would also further compromise not only the legitimacy of the inquiry but its legality. Even if Ginwala and Mabandla claimed to have attended a meeting to discuss flower arrangement or the form of the Springbok rugby team, noreasonable person would not feel a very strong apprehension that the head of the commission was biased against the head of the NPA.

Surely, if Ginwala is unwise enough to recommend to the President that Mr Pikoli should be removed from office, this would give Pikoli’s legal team another very strong line of attack against the legality of the process.

Politically, it also creates (or perhaps one should say further perpetuates) the perception that President Thabo Mbeki plays lip-service at obeying the Rule of Law and following the letter of the law, but that behind the scenes he is prepared to subvert the law to protect those close to him and to “fix” those who cross him.

Unless the protagonists come up with a better excuse that a memory lapse, most of us will expect the worst and will assume that once again Mbeki and his Minister is abusing their power to get rid of someone who did not follow the line. The fact that Ginwala is also implicated in this sorry mess seems sad, but after reading the part in Andrew Feinstein’s book in which he describes how the former Speaker subverted her office to protect the party and do President Mbeki’s bidding for him, it is not coming as a surprise.

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