IT was in the eighteenth century that the French social commentator and political thinker Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, enunciated the principle of the separation of powers between the three aspects of government — legislative, executive and judicial — which is today regarded as an essential characteristic of constitutions throughout the world. Democracy is worth little if there is no separation of powers. If, for instance, the executive runs amok, as it has done in Zimbabwe, the ensuing disaster is plain for all to see. Coinciding with this and, indeed, probably closely allied to it, is the stand-off between Cape Judge President John Hlope and the judges of the Constitutional Court. A month ago the Constitutional Court lodged a formal complaint with the Judicial Services Commission stating that Hlope had allegedly improperly attempted to influence two of the court’s judges in relation to cases involving Zuma. Hlope responded with a 71-page affidavit, crying racism and attempting to isolate the country’s two most senior judges, Chief Justice Pius Langa and his deputy Dikgang Moseneke, by alleging that they are the arch-plotters against him. The Judicial Services Commission is currently investigating both complaints.