Ismail Abramjee’s fantasy that he could get away with implicating the country’s top judges in shady behaviour by simply passing it off as an unfortunate invention of his fertile imagination is astounding.
Abramjee has not only tarnished the Constitutional Court, but he also showed how lowly he thinks of the average South African’s acuity, including those who silently wish that his transgression should be swiftly brushed aside and forgotten to protect their own narrow political interests.
Where in the world is anyone capable of having Abramjee’s courage to undermine the entire nation’s intelligence? There’s no need to guess. Welcome to today’s post-apartheid South Africa where the elite and their middle-class hangers on have become cocky and believe they are untouchables.
Not long ago, former president Jacob Zuma’s lackeys absolved him from accountability by claiming that those who were doing him favours by allowing the Guptas’ wedding guests to land at Waterkloof Airbase were just name-dropping. Zuma got away with it.
As he realises that he has been caught out, Abramjee is pulling the same ruse. And just like the Zuma spin, Abramjee’s version also demonstrates “a tenuous grip on logic or [he] is wilfully trying to mislead the public”, as constitutional law Professor Pierre De Vos summed up the tragic Waterkloof name-dropping chapter. There was public outrage – and rightfully so.
The setting this time is a legal dispute before the high court in which the Speaker of Parliament Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula wants Parliament to forge ahead with Mkhwebane’s impeachment.
President Cyril Ramaphosa wants to suspend Mkhwebane pending the conclusion of the impeachment process. Elsewhere in the Constitutional Court, a ruling in Mkhwebane’s bid to rescind parts of the judgment that enabled her impeachment is pending.
Abramjee would have us believe that he had a brainwave one morning and sent a text message to the Speaker’s legal counsel: “I have it on good authority that the [Constitutional] Court has declined to hear the Public Protector’s rescission application. The decision will be made known some time this coming week, but not later than Friday. I thought I’d just share this with you on a strictly confidential basis.”
After the text message was disclosed to the court, Abramjee sought to contradict himself. He reportedly told the media that he was just sharing his expert analysis of Mkhwebane’s case based on publicly available information.
But, he went a step further and tried to place Mkhwebane’s credentials on public trial when it was actually his conduct that was under scrutiny. He said Mkhwebane “has become a serious misuser and abuser of public funds to fight her vexatious litigation for her own personal interests”.
Classic! On the back of Abramjee’s post-hoc explanation, I might have read the original text message to my five-month-old son and if I did, I certainly don’t remember confusion on his small face.
On Thursday Mkhwebane opened a criminal case against Abramjee – the charges include contempt of court, defeating or obstructing the course of justice and contraventions of the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act.
READ: Mkhwebane opens criminal case against Abramjee for alleged Constitutional Court leak
There is also a charge of perjury in the mix as a result of Abramjee’s lame spin, which he subsequently repeated under oath, according to reports.
It was the lowly cleric who often gets mocked for being born in the rural streets of Mafikeng and, therefore, never deserved to be the country’s Chief Justice, according to one Johnny-come-lately critic – who first warned about the untouchables in July 2019.
“For centuries preceding our constitutional democracy, untouchability was so entrenched or virtually institutionalised that it was unthinkable for some to challenge the apparent or actual criminality, naked injustice or corruption that reigned in our country,” said the then Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in the minority ruling dealing with Mkhwebabe’s overturned Absa/Bankorp report.
If we digress slightly, Absa is yet to be held accountable for its benefit in the lifeboat agreement of more than R3 billion that the Reserve Bank gifted to Bankorp between 1986 and 1995. Absa acquired Bankorp in April 1992 for R1.230 billion and that acquisition was, on Absa’s insistence, subject to the lifeboat agreement being kept alive.
As if he was having a prophetic moment on Mkhwebane’s future, Mogoeng said the untouchables would inflict “harsh consequences including smear or other writings bereft of intellectual integrity” on those showing the nerve to speak or act against injustice, corruption or sectional beneficial use or abuse of institutional power or public resources.
“It was potentially career-limiting and even life-threatening for those who were supposed to know their place to seek to have the right thing done by challenging the ‘entitled’ perpetrators of injustice or their allies,” Mogoeng said.
READ: Mystery SMS behind the postponement of the Mkhwebane application against Ramaphosa
Don’t be mistaken. The things Mogoeng was referring to were, of course, the conditions that existed in South Africa under apartheid. But the stencil fits neatly with South Africa’s sociopolitical relations right now. And Abramjee’s case is a stark reminder of that.