Zuma’s attacks on judiciary are a worry

2011-11-05 08:16

It is possible that President Jacob Zuma and ANC secretary-general Gwede ­Mantashe hope that civil society will grow weary of responding to their endless ­supply of misplaced rantings about how the judiciary should bow before the popularly elected legislature and executive.

President Zuma and Mantashe waste no opportunity to cast aspersions on the integrity of the country’s judiciary.

Zuma said this week: “The powers conferred on the courts cannot be ­regarded as superior to the powers resulting from a mandate given by the people in a popular vote. We must not get the sense that there are those who wish to co-govern the country through the courts, when they have not won the popular vote during elections.”

It is hard to understand why the president finds it difficult to grasp that, in a constitutional ­democracy, it is the Constitution that is supreme, not the numbers.

If the president and leading members of his party are intent on wearing the public down with the same spurious argument all the time, they should expect the same reaction over and over.

The constitutionally guaranteed separation of powers is far too important. So for as long as Zuma keeps raising the same issue in the same way, we will react in much the same way.

It is, as they say, a case of if you do things the way you always have, you will get what you always got. The divisions of power was not inserted by a bored group of constitutional experts.

It is a ­safeguard against the ever-present possibility of abuse by the executive. This is not to say there is necessarily an intention by the current administration to abuse its majority.

Of all people, Zuma ought to know the ­desirability of a judiciary that does not feel the need to pander to the whims of the executive.

Has he already forgotten how, thanks to the courts, he survived what he and his supporters deemed an executive-inspired political lynching?

There is no doubt that the courts and their judgments are not beyond criticism. Zuma is therefore right to say that judges do not enjoy a position that is loftier than that of the executive.

He is wrong in his implication that the corollary is true. But gratuitous attacks by the head of the executive on a separate but equally important ­pillar of our democracy are uncalled for.

They are beneath the dignity of both offices. Zuma must not only cease these attacks on judges but must lead the change of the anti-judiciary mindset that he and Mantashe increasingly personify.

It is high time that Zuma appreciated that he is head of state, not only of government or the governing party.

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