Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Stand up for the Constitution

The most grievous damage inflicted by the ANC's leadership struggle is the growing political contamination of our legal system.

Thabo Mbeki's opponents accuse him of using South Africa's law enforcement agencies to shore up his leadership -- his intervention in the Scorpions' planned arrest of police chief Jackie Selebi puts the matter beyond doubt.

But supporters of Jacob Zuma who level this accusation are just as tainted. This week Julius Malema made the outrageous threat that he and his fellow hooligans in the ANC Youth League are prepared to kill to prevent
Zuma coming to trial. Their only motivation for this is the length of time it has taken to bring Zuma to trial -- when Zuma's systematic blocking tactic at every level of the court system is the main reason for the delay.

It does not matter how long the judicial process lasts: if he has broken the law, he must face the music.

But the central point is that it is not for the ANC Youth League or any other political grouping to decide the ANC president's guilt or
innocence -- that is the constitutionally determined job of the judiciary. Someone really needs to send the young pussycats on a course in constitutionalism.

Malema sounded completely flummoxed at the concept of separation of powers and constitutionalism when quizzed this week. This is not surprising since education was not his strong point while at school.

His speciality is disruption, not dialogue. Underlying Malema's childish outburst is the idea that the ANC, as the embodiment of the people's will, is the supreme power in the land.

There is no understanding that the Constitution is supreme, that South Africa is a constitutional state with an independent judicial system, which is insulated from political influence by the beautiful doctrine of a separation of powers. And Malema is not alone.

As we report this week, there is widespread support for him in the ANC among those who believe that their desire for Zuma to become South Africa's next president is far more important than the Constitution and its values.

Then there is the case of Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe, accused by the full Bench of the Constitutional Court of trying to lobby two of its judges in Zuma's favour. Hlophe's guilt must still be decided by the Judicial Services Commission, but the court's complaint quotes him as talking of his "mandate" -- presumably political mandate -- and connections in the intelligence establishment.

Let there be no doubt: if politicians and spooks start to lean on the highest court in the land, ordinary South Africans will be in the deepest possible trouble.

Such interference raises the spectre of sectional political interests and vendettas shaping our fundamental law. Freedom and constitutionalism don't disappear overnight. They are eroded by the rhetoric of intolerance, by ignorance and by apathy.

Let us, as citizens, not be apathetic and speak up for the nation's founding document.

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