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Eldon Phukuile
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The Truth vs Justice paradox

18 May 2012, 14:05

What is truth? What is justice? Isn’t truth supposed to set you free? Don’t we swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

A problem with truth is - there are many versions. Take the example of an art class sitting in a circle around an object, with the task to draw or paint a still life. If there are, say 20 artists in the group, each would have a different vantage point and would create a piece of work that represents his view, or interpretation of the object. How then, when the work is done, does anyone dare choose, out of all the drawings, the one that is the ‘truth’ – and avoid murder?

Murder – well, isn’t that the cause for this article? The courts – wow, is it not just astounding what comes from there? Most often, we could reasonably guess, there are no witnesses when a murder is committed. Then the argument in court becomes about the word of the accused vs. what the police investigators could uncover. On the one hand, a family has suffered from the early, untimely and possibly gruesome death of the loved one. On the other hand, the accused is protected by law, assumed innocent until proven guilty, offered FREE legal representation, has the possibility of being declared innocent my mis-trial, or on a technicality. The worst still – pleading insanity or getting a dose of “Shabir-Shaik-itis” (South Africans will understand)

Of course, we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand, condemn innocent men to death for crimes that they didn’t commit. The challenge is – how do we strike thie needed balance? It is often told that prisons are full of innocent men!!! All I’m saying – it makes you think. And if it doesn’t, it ought to make you think.

To me, the bottom line is this:

1.     Telling the truth, although a good ideal, does not always set you free

2.     There are different versions of the truth, with the possibility of another version of the truth can easily contradict and negate yours

3.     The South African Constitution unintentionally offers certain constitutional rights that do not seem ‘right’

4.     The law is used to interpret the ‘facts’, otherwise known as ‘the truth’, but the law only represents what is legal - not what is ‘right.’

5.     There is very little ethics in law

6.     There is very little ethics in society

7.     The law is interpreted by magistrates and judges, but with some recent topical events involving judges and their behaviour, does it really inspire confidence?

So, there is a deep link between truth, right and wrong, law, ethics and justice, but there is no golden thread running through these virtues. Therefore, the overall message is not consistent with good, clean living. When we add human greed, deception and ability to hurt, it starts to explain why there are so many problems and challenges in the world today.

As Africans, many of us belive in Ubuntu. Yet, very few of us live it. In a sense, it is understandable. We are exposed to so much negativity, that our society is de-sensitised and relieved when the violence and the problems do not affect us directly. We’re surviving, making a quick buck, dodging bullets and doing what we need to – to survive life in the concrete jungle.

President Mandela started a really great, and much needed national initiative in trying to unite the nation – The Rainbow Nation (Remember that?) So, I guess, most of us will agree that the different Presidents have presided over very different era’s that have resulted in various different national moods. For myself, I miss the President Mandela days – the nation was proud and excelled in sports, winning the African Nations Cup – even the Rugby World Cup.

We’ve been going on a vast decline in so many ways. Where is the justice in that? Perhaps it is just the new way of life where the state is so inundated with the problems of the economically unemancipated masses, that there is no time, political will, or resources to attend to the requirements, even the rights of the economically active and contributing population. Where’s the justice in that? It seems that we are in the era of cronyism, incompetence and self enrichment.

I know, and you know that it’s a reflection of our values. This is MY truth. Where’s the justice in that? How strange. A few years ago, I could have sworn that truth IS justice. How wrong I was!
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