Quote of the week

Mr Zuma is no ordinary litigant. He is the former President of the Republic, who remains a public figure and continues to wield significant political influence, while acting as an example to his supporters… He has a great deal of power to incite others to similarly defy court orders because his actions and any consequences, or lack thereof, are being closely observed by the public. If his conduct is met with impunity, he will do significant damage to the rule of law. As this Court noted in Mamabolo, “[n]o one familiar with our history can be unaware of the very special need to preserve the integrity of the rule of law”. Mr Zuma is subject to the laws of the Republic. No person enjoys exclusion or exemption from the sovereignty of our laws… It would be antithetical to the value of accountability if those who once held high office are not bound by the law.

Khampepe j
Secretary of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State v Zuma and Others (CCT 52/21) [2021] ZACC 18
28 May 2009

Thabo Mbeki’s strange relationship with the truth continues

Politicians call it “plausible deniability”. One makes a statement that everyone who hears it believes to mean X. The generally accepted meaning of X is, however, untrue. But one has parsed the words in such a way that one could always later claim never to have said what everyone thought one had said – even if one had not contested the generally accepted interpretation shortly after it was made. Or evades responsibility for one’s words by denying ever having said something that others have not really claimed one has said.

President Thabo Mbeki is a master at this. He really is not someone with a great fondness for honesty and truth.

Earlier this week Mbeki denied ever having said that HIV does not cause AIDS. A “(im)plausible denial” of the generally accepted interpretation of his words, if ever there was one. At the time Mbeki had said:

“Does HIV cause AIDS? Can a virus cause a syndrome? How? It can’t, because a syndrome is a group of diseases resulting from acquired immune deficiency.”

And in an interview with Time Magazine on September 4 2000, Mbeki stated that, “the notion that immune deficiency [AIDS] is only acquired from a single virus [HIV] cannot be sustained.” When asked whether he was prepared to “acknowledge that there is a link between HIV and AIDS?” he replied:

This is precisely where the problem starts. No, I am saying that you cannot attribute immune deficiency solely and exclusively to a virus.

So, in a dry technical sense Mbeki is not peddling a “deliberate falsehood” when he says he never said the words: “HIV does not cause Aids”. Plausible deniability. Problem is, he questioned the link between HIV and AIDS and said a virus cannot cause a syndrome and this was widely understood by those spineless cabinet Ministers (who refused at the time to state that HIV causes AIDS), state officials and ordinary people to mean that Mbeki did not believe that HIV caused AIDS. And Mbeki, who at any time during the controversy could have corrected this impression, failed to do so.

This is like asking whether apartheid was really bad for South Africa and had really caused the suffering of millions of South Africans, then when asked directly whether I thought apartheid was bad for South Africa and had caused misery to say: “no, there are many reasons for people’s misery”.  Then years later denying that I had ever suggested that apartheid caused suffering.

Now, hundreds of thousands of deaths later, Mbeki wants to rewrite history. Why take responsibility for your words when they come back to bite you? That would require courage and honesty – two things our former President seems to lack.

Another example of this lack of basic honesty was revealed in his affidavit in support of his suspension of Vusi Pikoli. In the affidavit Mbeki stated:

I had to confer with the NSC to establish the risk posed by this decision [not to provide more time to arrest Selebi] and considered ways of minimising any potential threat to national security…. All I can say is that following such discussion [with the NSC] the advice I received was to suspend the applicant from office with immediate effect.

At the time it was widely reported that Mbeki had said that he had suspended Pikoli on the advice of the NSC. Mbeki never corrected this. Now the Presidency has issued a statement saying:

Former President Thabo Mbeki did not say he was advised by the National Security Council to suspend the NDPP. All he said was that he conferred with the National Security Council.

So, at best Mbeki was misleading the court and the public by his innitial statement and then – more importantly, by his silence afterward. At worst he was committing perjury.

Would you buy a second hand car from this man? I won’t.

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