Edited extract of Maharaj’s address to National Press Club

2011-11-26 16:20

Currently, there are allegations about me being involved in bribery and corruption in the awarding of two government contracts, at a time when I was transport minister from 1994 to 1999.

This issue has made headlines at different times; it would peak, it would disappear, it would come up.

It started with a so-called exposé in the Sunday Times on February 16 2003 and it has kept coming back.

I have maintained the view that I have not been involved in any bribery, corruption and in the awarding of those two tenders.

That’s my consistent position. It doesn’t change.I have subjected myself to numerous enquiries by state agencies.

It has surfaced again and I want to emphasise my consistent denial of it (corruption claims).

Currently, my actions are presented as an attempt to stifle media freedom and to censor the media.

It is therefore important to state that media diversity and freedom of expression are absolutely essential to a vibrant democracy.

I say this in all seriousness and not as a cheap exercise to praise you so that, thereafter, when I knock you, you don’t feel the pain of the slap.

I had reached a point in my thinking because of a phone call from Jovial Rantao (deputy editor of The Star), who told me – and I taped it – that he had information from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) that my wife would be charged for violations of income tax (laws) and that this would be used to get to me.

I was outraged. This was a complete breach of faith by Mr (Bulelani) Ngcuka (former head of the NPA).

It changed my attitude.

Previously, I thought the leak in the Sunday Times was accidental, but now we had the head of the NPA himself abusing the information he had; that changed my mindset.

It made me singularly concerned about the abuse of authority that was taking place and that whatever the gains of democracy – and there are many – I felt the seeds of its destruction could be sown by this type of abuse of power.

I saw this as the real threat to freedom.

This experience has not shaken my commitment to the critical role of the media and the necessity for media freedom if the role of the media is to be fulfilled.

Let us ask ourselves, “What are the rights that are involved in this process?” – freedom of expression, the right to privacy, the issue of defamation, the issue of access to information, the issue of access to courts and the rights of an arrested person.

All these rights are written here in the Bill of Rights and I am saying if you look at the facts of the situation, they are present in the mix of my matter.

What do we have to do?

Create a situation where we understand what is at issue, where people use facts to assess and balance; that is, in the context that I hold the freedom of expression as a critical and fundamental right.

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