Max du Preez

ANC feeling the heat as it takes aim at judiciary, media

2015-07-07 08:00

Max du Preez

The pressure on the ruling ANC is really beginning to show. The closer we get to next year's municipal elections, the more it resorts to kragdadigheid and intimidation tactics.

There has been an orchestrated ANC campaign over the last few weeks to criticise and insult the judiciary. One after the other, cabinet ministers and senior party leaders accused judges of partisanship or of having a political agenda.

The media was the next target. Several ministers and key figures in Luthuli House revived the old refrain that the media was a neo-liberal conspiracy that wants to frustrate the will of the majority, even attempt regime change. The old threat of a state-controlled media tribunal was dusted off again.

And last week president Jacob Zuma wagged his finger in the style of PW Botha. He told the students of the Tshwane University of Technology: " Do not use violence to express yourselves or I might be forced to relook at the apartheid laws that used violence to suppress people."

It is significant that Zuma made this statement just a few days after the Farlam Commission's report on the Marikana Massacre was released. Most commentators have compared Marikana to the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960.

The attacks on the judiciary are the most dangerous of these threats.

There are those who believe that the ANC's systematic undermining of the judiciary is paving the way for a refusal by the government to execute a court order on something more important than has been the case so far – perhaps a court order that the criminal charges against Zuma be reinstated?

That'vs not impossible, but my suspicion is that it is rather meant as intimidation. To play a silly little game with the court around the Sudanese president's escape from South Africa is one thing, but the remaining constitutionalists in the ANC know that a blatant middle finger to the highest courts will constitute a full-blown constitutional crisis with much fallout.

The ANC has (hopefully) not descended to that level.

The persistent attacks on judges, including Constitutional Court judges, are, in my view, rather aimed at warning the judges to think twice before they decide against the executive in future.

The Zuma inner circle has been very successful in capturing and compromising state institutions such as the State Security Agency, the National Prosecuting Authority, the SA Revenue Service, the police service and the Hawks, and has tried hard to clip the wings of the public protector.

It is much more difficult to exert this kind of influence over the judiciary. If the ANC wanted to load the courts with sympathetic judges, it will take years before this could have any impact.

When deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke was pushed aside and judge Mogoeng Mogoeng appointed as chief justice over his head, many said that Mogoeng was a "tame" judge. He has since, through words and actions, proved that this wasn’t the case.

The attacks on the media are probably also more about populism and intimidation than a real threat. It is highly unlikely that the Constitutional Court would condone the establishment of a state-run media tribunal.

Free speech is entrenched in the constitution’s Bill of Rights and it will be easy to prove that the present measures to keep the media accountable are successful.

The hysteria about the media is quite absurd. The most powerful and influential media house, the SABC, is an ANC lapdog, as is the television channel ANN7 and the Gupta newspaper, The New Age.

The eight newspapers of the Independent Media Group are also clearly supporters of the government and ruling party.

In reality, the ANC’s anger is mostly aimed at City Press, the Sunday Times and the Mail & Guardian.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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