Quote of the week

Universal adult suffrage on a common voters roll is one of the foundational values of our entire constitutional order. The achievement of the franchise has historically been important both for the acquisition of the rights of full and effective citizenship by all South Africans regardless of race, and for the accomplishment of an all-embracing nationhood. The universality of the franchise is important not only for nationhood and democracy. The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and of personhood. Quite literally, it says that everybody counts. In a country of great disparities of wealth and power it declares that whoever we are, whether rich or poor, exalted or disgraced, we all belong to the same democratic South African nation; that our destinies are intertwined in a single interactive polity.

Justice Albie Sachs
August and Another v Electoral Commission and Others (CCT8/99) [1999] ZACC 3
11 January 2008

James Bond, Jackie Selebi and the Scorpions

The Mail & Guardian reports that Jackie Selebi is to bring an urgent application this morning seeking more information about the alleged charges against him. Ever since President Thabo Mbeki suspended Vusi Pikoli, head of the NPA, after a warrant of arrest was issued for Selebi, the matter has just gotten more and more murky. Quite frankly it is a huge mess.

On Tuesday Gerrie Nel of the Scorpions was arrested by Selebi’s police on charges of fraud. It was Nel who obtained the warrant of arrest for Selebi. It is very difficult not to want to jump to conclusions and to assume that the arrest of Nel is linked to the warrant issued for Selebi and that Selebi is using the police against the Scorpions in order to try and stop charges being brought against him.

This is a deeply worrying development as we now have the head of police in a stand-off with the prosecuting authority (but we are not sure the head of the prosecuting authority will do what is principled and correct or will do what his political masters want) which casts a shadow over the credibility of both the police and the NPA.

The mess would never have happened had President Mbeki not abused his power last year by suspendeding Pikoli on completely legally spurious grounds in the first place. If Selebi is innocent and if he is being framed by old guard members of the NPA as the spokesperson for President Mbeki had suggested last year, then the correct action would have been for the police commissioner to step aside (on full pay) while the matter is sorted out by the courts.

But Mbeki had obviously taken sides in this fight and now we have the police commissioner seemingly abusing his position as head of the police to get back at the person investigating him. This undermines the credibility of both the police (and its Commissioner) and of the NPA and it must be urgently sorted out.

If Mokotedi Mpshe, acting head of the NPA, had acted more decisively in this matter, this mess could also have been at least partially avoided. Now we seemingly having a dithering NPA acting head who announced that a decision had been taken on Selebi but the decision is not announced or executed. What can we make of this, but to assume that the decision did not please Mpshe’s political masters and that he is now backtracking on the whole arrest of Selebi?

Mpshe needs to act at once or he will lose all credibility in the eyes of anyone remotely aware of the facts. His public utterances so far on almost any issue have not instilled much confidence and he has generally appeared to be playing way out of his own league (which is a polite way of saying he does not come across as very bright or politically astute). Now his dithering just reinforces this perception. 

Even if there are good reasons for not announciong a decision on Selebi either way, the public needs to be informed about what these reasons might be. Mpshe must go on national television and must tell us that there is an international conspiracy to discredit our police or that aliens from outer space have infiltrated the NPA or whatever his excuse is, but silence surely cannot be an option.

What President Mbeki and Mpshe and Selebi does not seem to understand is that we do not live in a closed society in which secrecy is acceptable practice for public actors. We have a free press and openess and tranceparancy is important – in fact essential. But these people act as if what the public thinks is absolutely irrelevant. It is not irrelevant, however, because we – the voting public – are the one’s who give the institutions that they head their credibility and we are the ones who need to trust these institutions for our society to work.

If Mpshe does not act swiftly, I for one would lose all confidence in him. The saga around Selebi is getting so absurd that it looks more like a James Bond movie than an ordinary law and order matter. What next? Another Brett Kebble type “assisted suicide”? A suspension by Mbeki of the acting head of the NPA? Selebi asking for assylum in Tjikitjikistan? Come on guys, this is absurd. 

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