Helen Zille: Judge Hlophe saga must not be allowed to turn racial

2008-06-13 00:00

Cape Town - The latest affair relating to Cape Judge President John Hlophe should not be allowed to degenerate into a racial slanging match, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said yesterday.

In her Weekly Letter, Zille called on all stakeholders in the latest scandal involving Hlophe to use ''temperate and non-racial language'' when commenting on the matter.

"If the debate degenerates into a racial slanging match, the chances of justice being served will decrease dramatically — particularly in the event of a parliamentary impeachment hearing. We must not let that happen," Zille said.

Earlier this month, Constitutional Court judges accused Hlophe of trying to influence the bench in an improper manner and for trying to influence the court's decision over search and seizure raids carried out by the Scorpions on properties of Jacob Zuma and French arms manufacturing giant Thint.

Zille said the possibility that a Judge President attempted to improperly influence Constitutional Court judges for political ends has shaken the country's faith in the independence of the judiciary.

"If Judge Hlophe did attempt to sway Constitutional Court judges to support Zuma's appeal ...it will take time and conscious effort to restore public trust in the judiciary. If Judge Hlophe did not do so, it means the full bench of the Constitutional Court lied in its statement — which, needless to say, would throw us into a full-blown constitutional crisis."

Zille said it is highly unlikely that a full bench of the Constitutional Court would make such an unprecedented allegation against a senior Judge without clear and sufficient evidence.

"Why would a Judge risk his career to further the ends of a politician? 'The answer, 14 years into ANC rule, is this: An ambitious Judge President, who wants to get ahead, may actually consider it a greater career risk to demonstrate independence from the dominant faction of the ruling party. He may consider aligning himself with Zuma a shrewd career move.

"It should be remembered that Zuma, should he become President, will appoint the Chief Justice. Zuma has claimed repeatedly that the ANC is more important than the Constitution. It follows that his supporters would seek to demonstrate the same priorities, especially if they seek the favours that Presidential patronage can bestow. When a Judge is alleged to have placed a party above the Constitution, we see how far the cancer has spread."

Zille continued: ''Indeed, Judge Hlophe is alleged to have told Constitutional Court Judges Bess Nkaminde and Christopher Jafta that 'he was going to be the next Chief Justice' and that they should "think about their future" before telling them to rule in favour of Zuma.

"On this evidence, Judge Hlophe emerges as the personification of the ANC's policy to "transform the collective mindset of the judiciary" to make it more compliant with the ruling party.

"His alleged actions are less surprising (but no more excusable) when you consider the pressure exerted on judges, and black judges in particular, to side with the ANC.''

The DA leader said Hlophe is the epitome of a judg who is "in consonance" with the ruling party.

''He behaves like an ANC deployee, he is tainted by shady dealings and he is not afraid to play the race card when he needs to. As an ANC NEC member said last week, Judge Hlophe 'was one judge who could at least see that the Zuma trial was a political crusade'.

Zille said it was fortunate that the the unanimous response of the Constitutional Court Bench indicates that Hlophe's alleged behaviour is not the norm in the upper echelons of the judiciary.

''This is an encouraging sign that judicial independence can be maintained, despite political threats. It is heartening too that the Judicial Service Commission has acknowledged the situation's urgency and has moved relatively quickly and decisively to deal with it.''

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