When inactivity is a course of action

2011-09-24 00:00

I HAVE always been one who believes in innocent until proven guilty, as prescribed by our law. In South Africa, we often see opposition parties calling for people to quit their jobs following accusations made against them. Sometimes those people are then found not guilty. The injustice is that the accused, who is later found not guilty, has already vacated his or her position following the accusations, but now has no resources to claim damages. This particularly irks me because opposition parties, which are self-ordained custodians of the Constitution, are normally the first ones to use the presumption of innocence (until proven guilty) when it suits them.

The former International Monetary Fund chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s rape saga is a case in point. Having resigned from the post, the New York District Attorney’s office later withdrew the charges against him, but irreparable damage had been done. If pressure is always put on the accused to quit whatever position they hold following accusations made against them, then what is the function of the presumption of innocence?

By the same token, if a person is accused of a crime or of wrong-doing and they know that they committed that crime, the onus should be on them to resign from their position, even if they have not yet been found guilty or convicted, because that would only be a matter of time. For instance, if you are a government minister and you have used state resources unlawfully to visit your girlfriend who is in a Swiss jail, why do you need a president to tell you what to do, instead of just doing the right thing? No, you should not go on sick leave or refuse to answer questions which fall within the scope of your job, you should do the honourable thing and walk away.

Having said that, it is all good and well to use the innocent until proven guilty principle, but what defeats the purpose is when those who are in power and are supposed to act do not do so within a reasonable period of time and they allow the process to drag on for too long, to the point where inactivity is perceived as condoning the alleged wrong-doing.

It’s one thing when allegations are made and the relevant authorities need a bit of time to investigate before they act, and it’s another when reports of wrong-doing are already compiled so that the authorities are able to take decisive action.

While I agreed with President Jacob Zuma’s approach in dealing with political hot potatoes such as General Bheki Cele, Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Co-operative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka, which is, studying the information that is before him before taking action, he has taken too long, which has given rise to all sorts of rumours, which have become easier to believe as time passes.

The undoing of Zuma’s presidency is that he will most likely be judged on what he does not do, rather than what he does do, whether it’s right or wrong. Inactivity can be perceived as an action, just like silence is at times the loudest voice.

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