The courting of contempt

2010-11-13 15:26

‘Arented dog of a conspiracy theory.” Say what? You’ve got to give it to the ANC Youth League for consistency: the H for Woodwork, the E for Elocution and I for Ignorance seem endemic to its membership.

This, of course, was the Northern Cape branch of the league’s response to the arrest on corruption charges of its provincial ­chairperson, John Fikile Block.

If I had to write a press statement such as the one it put out, City Press would have its head on a block for breaking the sub judice law and the enemies of media freedom would declare, as they so regularly do these days, that this is why the media needs a tribunal.

“There is no casual (sic) link between the conduct of the provincial chairperson (Block) with any of the common law or statutory offences to justify his arrest,” said the league’s wannabe lawyers. “We are strongly of the view that he should not have been ­subjected to an arrest by now.”

I’m sure they meant causal link in this casual and ­ill-considered assault on the law.

And so, the league has passed judgment, thus injuring the rule of law as it has so regularly done in the past.

The important dictum that one is innocent until proven guilty carries with it an equal responsibility. And that is that the decision of innocence or guilt is for a judge to make, not for the provincial executive of a youth league of a governing party, no matter how large.

Now the league has started a Hands off John Block campaign; replete with green, black and gold insignia, and T-shirts too.

The ANC this week decried the league’s attack on Menzi Simelane, who is the lead prosecutor in the large corruption trial of which Block is one of the accused.

But its historically ambivalent response to the prosecution of corruption within its ranks has established a template that the laaities of Northern Cape are following to the ­letter.

The ANC has always politicised corruption and fraud trials involving its top brass.

Reel back to August 2006 when then Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rassool and then parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete were among a phalanx of senior ANC and government leaders who escorted the convicted Tony Yengeni to Pollsmoor prison.

By using the victuals of struggle – the hands off campaign, the solidarity march and the all-night vigil – not only does the ANC bastardise its rich history of opposing the apartheid trials, but it also harms the standing of the law among its next generation who take all these rightly lauded tactics and contaminate them in a democratic era.

In an excellent piece of reportage in The Star this week, the reporter asked protesters if they had read the charge sheet. “No.” Why they were there. “I don’t know,” said one.

These are rent-a-crowds, not the disciplined masses who turned apartheid trials ­into freedom rallies.

The method of undermining the law was perfected in the two trials of now president Jacob Zuma – those for rape and corruption.

While the president believed both were political set-ups, the methods used by his camp to oppose the trial perfected the template that Block’s shock troops are now employing.

At the rape trial, MaMkhize rolled on the ground shooting a (thankfully) make-believe AK-47 as the accuser was repeatedly ­threatened by the gathered masses.

In 2008 at the corruption trial, night vigils upped the tempo of struggle as prosecutors, judges and journalists faced a barrage of ­accusation and insult.

 The SA Communist Party boss and now Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande labelled the trial the first of the great post-apartheid political trials and so smudged any effort to deal with corruption in high places.

While there is now ample evidence to show that the charges Zuma faced were laced with political malice, the discernment of such should have been left to the courts.

To return respect for the courts and for the judiciary, the ANC should surely limit the ­autonomy of its youth league in this instance and insist that the trial is allowed to continue.

The trial involving some of the same ­figures and a former Ithala Bank executive in ­KwaZulu-Natal has been lauded by the ­provincial ANC government as evidence of a new resolve to fight corruption.

The hands-off Block campaign in a different province confuses the public and muddies the dog.

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