Judicial integrity

2009-02-05 00:00

Spokesman for the African National Congress Carl Niehaus has commented that it is a travesty of justice for Jacob Zuma to be taken to court so often on the same charges. Yet he did not mention the constant appeals that are made by Zuma and his legal team, which have had the effect of delaying the process. This very week, while the case against Zuma has been renewed in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, he has been lodging an application in the Constitutional Court to contest the recent Supreme Court decision which went against him. Niehaus’s comment reveals a partisanship which undermines the nature of due judicial process. Far from demonstrating a travesty of justice, the courts of this land have acted with commendable responsibility and patience in handling this case.

There are other disturbing threats to this country’s judicial institutions. One comes from within the judiciary itself. John Hlophe, the president of the Cape High Court, has been on special leave since June last year pending a decision by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) on a complaint made by the Constitutional Court that he had tried to influence two of its judges to rule in favour of Zuma in one of his appeals to that court. Hlophe has returned to work despite the fact that the JSC’s decision is still awaited and despite a reminder from the Minister of Justice that he is still on special leave. One reason for this is his desire to be considered for the position of Chief Justice when Pius Langa retires at the end of this year.

A further threat focuses on the post of National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP). Vusi Pikoli’s dismissal by President Motlanthe awaits Parliament’s response which, given its ANC majority, is a virtual certainty. There is already much speculation about his replacement and rumour has it that Durban advocate Muzi Wilfrid Mkhize is a favoured candidate despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that he was part of Zuma’s defence team when corruption charges were first laid against him in 2005. Is it too much to hope that wiser counsels will prevail and that a more neutral appointment will be made? The integrity of South Africa’s judicial system is at stake.

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