Attack on the judiciary

2008-07-08 00:00

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.

As Jacob Zuma’s day in court looms and as the various blocks which he and his legal team have attempted to put in its way are brushed aside, the Zuma camp, evidently fearing the demise of their champion, is now mounting a political assault on the judiciary. ANC

Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe last week launched an extraordinary attack on the judges of the Constitutional Court, accusing them of a conspiracy against Zuma and thus the ANC itself. They were, he said, “counter-revolutionary forces”.

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.

It is ironic that Hlope associates race with the charges against him. Why two senior black judges might be conspiring against him when it was Langa’s casting vote which apparently saved him from impeachment when charged on a previous occasion for irregularly receiving payments from Oasis Asset Management, only Hlope can imagine. It is difficult, however, not to interpret his challenging of Langa as a push to replace him as chief justice should a Zuma presidency eventually come about.

These are alarming developments. If the independence and integrity of the judiciary is undermined, democratic government is in peril.

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