Wider assault

2008-09-18 00:00

YESTERDAY’S feature article in this newspaper by Allister Sparks made it increasingly clear that Judge Chris Nicholson’s judgment in the Pietermaritzburg High Court last week was a watershed judgment, not only for the political future of African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma but also for the perennial question of the separation of powers between the executive arm of government and the judiciary.

The primary focus of public concern, before the judgment, was on unwarranted verbal attacks on the judiciary by some of Zuma’s supporters, together with wild threats of mass action if the court’s ruling were to go against their chosen leader. It was this very concern that led to Zapiro’s much-debated cartoon in the Sunday Times in which Zuma and his major henchmen were portrayed as rapists of “lady justice”.

The Nicholson judgment has highlighted another, even more ominous, reason for concern by taking the present government to task, including President Thabo Mbeki, for political interference with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), thereby compromising its claim and its right to independence. This is a disturbing repetition of what often took place under the apartheid government.

Some have been surprised by the inclusion of this critique in the Nicholson judgment when the main issue in the trial was whether Zuma had the legal right to make representations to the NPA before it renewed its charges against him. The reason for it is that Zuma’s defence had long claimed that there was political influence in the case and the NPA had described this claim as “scandalous, vexatious and irrelevant”. This obliged Nicholson to rule on the matter.

In the light of his judgment the Sunday Times published last Sunday an extended version of Zapiro’s cartoon of the week before, setting alongside it a new set of rapists, namely Mbeki and a collection of his henchmen. Interestingly, the ANC leadership, having protested vociferously against the original cartoon, have kept quiet after the publication of its successor. The truth is that the judicial system has been under threat from both sides of the current divisions in the ANC and it is vitally important that the media and the judiciary have highlighted this reality.

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