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.
It comes as no surprise that the JSC has decided not to institute proceedings that could lead to the impeachment of Judge President John Hlophe (pictured). I am on record as suggesting that Judge Hlophe had skillfully used the genuine concerns about transformation and racism on the bench and in the profession to save his own skin. That does not make the decision of the JSC less shameful or shocking, though.
In a country like South Africa, where race inevitably and comprehensively infects every aspect of public life, it was probably inevitable that Judge Hlophe would in effect be given a second chance by the (black) majority of members of the JSC. I heard rumours that ANC Parliamentarians had already indicated to the JSC that even if an impeachment recommendation is made, they would vote against it, so this might also have influence the JSC to make the spineless and disgraceful decision it did.
On one level, the decision by the JSC reminds us of how fractured and messed up our society still is. Facing an obviously correct but emotionally difficult decision that would have seen the downfall of a man who had worked himself up from gardener to Judge President, the majority of members of the JSC could not do the right thing, perhaps because this would have seemed like an endorsement of racist stereotypes.
The irony is, of course, that the decision will fuel, not undermine, the racist stereotypes that some whites have of black lawyers and judges. Those who are professional whiners and love to find fault with everything in the new South Africa will use this decision to crow about how “everything is going to the dogs”. What do the rest of us tell them this morning? How do we defend this decision by the JSC – except to appeal nakedly and barrenly to race?The dishonesty of the JSC decision is clear for all to see. Their claim that there was not sufficient evidence to proceed with a public inquiry regarding the main count of receiving payment from Oasis without consent from the minister, is, in fact, laughable. The statement issued by the JSC is also contradictory because the commission expressed dissatisfaction over some of the explanations it had received from Hlophe.
Lawyers have a wonderful way with words when they do not want to make the truth sound too damaging and this last sentence is a textbook example of that lawyerly skill. Dissatisfaction with some of the explanations offered by Judge Hlophe can be translated as: The Judge President had lied to the JSC but let’s just forget about it because we do not have a smoking gun that will force us to act.
The JSC had to say something to this effect to try and salvage some credibility for themselves. The unpalatable fact is that only those who believe that Father Christmas really delivers presents on a sleigh on Christmas eve could possibly have believed that Justice Hlophe had received permission from Dullah Omar to do work for Oasis. No member of the JSC (or Judge Hlophe for that matter) could possibly provide a cogent explanation for the fact that by the time Hlophe started doing “work” for Oasis, Minister Omar had not been the Minister of Justice for eighteen months.
Please people, you are insulting our intelligence and hurting our democracy and respect for the judiciary. You are placing the interest of one rich, influential, well-connected – admittedly previously discriminated against – man (Judge Hlophe), above the interests of the 45 million South African’s who wish to live in a country that adheres to the Rule of Law under an independent and respected judiciary. It is a deeply short-sighted decision and ever member of the JSC who supported Judge Hlophe should hang their heads in shame.
As my mother would have said: “Sies, julle behoort julle te skaam!”BACK TO TOP