Saturday, July 12, 2008

Mantashe and the ANC vs. The People (Cont.)

I recently wrote a post in support of Prof. Raymond Suttner's article 'Where are the alternatives to these harmful voices?'. There have been several responses to his piece, as well as to the original comments made by the Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe.

The most vociferous reaction (to Suttner) so far has been from the ANC Today, the official rag of the ruling party: 'Judges must not undermine the integrity of the courts' Volume 8, No. 27 • 11—17 July 2008.

In it they patronize Suttner for "spreading falsehoods". This is a man who, lest we not forget, once stood on the National Executive Committee of the ANC and is still a card-carrying member of the organisation. The newsletter also claims that the Secretary-General's comments were taken out of context by Suttner and others.

"Mantashe criticised the manner in which the Constitutional Court judges had handled the Hlope matter. But he did not call them counter-revolutionary, and he did nothing to undermine their independence or constitutional mandate. Like all public institutions, the judiciary must be prepared for their actions to be scrutinised, discussed and criticised. That is not unhealthy in a democracy."

I smell a straw man. Suttner, et al are not saying that judges are beyond reproach or that we live in a juristoracy. But attacks such as those issued by Mantashe are clearly inappropriate and smack of interference in the Zuma trial. The apparent willingness by the new ANC to manipulate a nascent democratic institution to ensure a politically expedient outcome warrants a robust defense of our judges. ANC Today goes on:

"...many commentators claimed that the ANC had launched an attack on the judiciary; some media claimed that he had described the actions of the Constitutional Court as "counter-revolutionary"."

No, I do believe it really was Cde. Mantashe who said those words. Rather than providing a sufficient counter-argument to the criticisms, the ANC once again blames the media for distorting an official's comments. This is a typical dodge, revealed as such by Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee. She claims that she is in possession of an audio tape of Mantashe saying that the judges were "counter-revolutionary". 'ANC shrugs off Mantashe's stance on the judiciary'

"She [Haffajee] said Mantashe, who usually calls her when he [is] not happy with a story in the paper, had not phoned her to complain about the story. "He has not complained nor requested an apology. My colleague has a tape recording of the interview," she said."

I am heartened, albeit only slightly, that the people who made these comments are a little bit embarrassed by what they said.


Patricia de Lille of The Independent Democrats (ID) referred to Mantashe's remarks as "a campaign to spare ANC president Jacob Zuma from equality before the courts" This is obvious, but needed to be said: 'ID slams ANC's "ruthless attack" on judges'


In her online newsletter, Helen Zille, leader of the opposition DA (automatically making her a White Russian schemer in some people's eyes) accused Zuma's ANC of being 'the real counter-revolutionaries'. Zille draws a moral equivalence between the actions of the ANC and National Party (NP) government under apartheid.

"The former oppressed are emulating their erstwhile oppressors and, when the “revolutionary vanguard” mimics the regime it replaced, you know that the counter-revolution has begun. It is straight out of George Orwell’s Animal Farm."

I agree that the Nats violated judicial and media freedom on a regular basis, but I also believe that the institutional vitality of the constitution is stronger now than it ever was under the old regime. That does not mean that we should ignore genuine assaults on our Constitutional Court, but let us compare like with like.

Ultimately, however, Zille's article asserts the need to protect our most important body from the pettiness of party loyalties, with the injunction that "the revolutionary change that came to South Africa was a Constitution that guaranteed universal rights – and committed the government to uphold and protect them, not to dispense them selectively."

I wonder if Ms. Zille has been reading Quid Pro Quo lately because she draws liberally on the Orwellian metaphor. Unfortunately, QPQ does not hold a monopoly on that little truth; but still, very cheeky, Helen!


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