Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Judiciary Not Above Criticism Says Zuma

Judiciary not above criticism - Zuma

Although the judiciary is accepted as the final arbiter of dispute, it is not above criticism, ANC president Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday.

"It can't be said you can't criticise the judiciary. That is what is being said in South Africa. That is not right," said a relaxed Zuma at the University of Johannesburg.

His speech was preceded by a thunderous rendition of "awulethu' mshini wami" and "my president" by students.

"But, the criticism should be fair and should be informed. That is very important."

Zuma said it was "only in dictatorships and autocracies that criticism is viewed with contempt".

Zuma was addressing university students on "access to justice", ahead of judgment on Friday in the next step in the fraud and corruption investigation against him.

His said criticism was "indeed proper in a democratic society".

His presentation came amidst a debate over a cartoon by Zapiro in the Sunday Times which depicts him about to rape a female depiction of justice, while his supporters pin her down.

Zuma's supporters - most vocally the Congress of SA Trade Unions, the ANC Youth League and the ANC itself, believe there is no case against him and the National Prosecuting Authority's pressing on with the case is only political.

Supporters have begun a campaign of protesting outside courts and police stations in the hopes of having the case against him dropped.

The Constitutional Court also came under pressure recently when it lodged a complaint with the Judicial Services Commission about Cape Judge President John Hlophe.

He allegedly tried to interfere with the court's judgment on Zuma's challenge to search and seizure warrants used in the investigation against him.

He said South Africa, as a 14-year-old democracy, is going through a learning curve and is still internalising the fundamental principles of democracy. Engaging in debates would help this process.

The judiciary is a pillar of a stable society and "to destabilise it would mean we are cutting our noses to spite our face".

He said it was unavoidable that tensions would be raised now and again between courts, the executive, political parties or the individual.

When they become unpalatable restraint should be shown.

"We must not jump to conclusions that the judiciary is under attack," he said.

"But if this happens, we must step back and reflect and be like sports people shaking hands after a gruelling duel."

He said ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe and secretary general Gwede Mantashe would never undermine the judiciary nor the rule of law.

"As the ANC we reiterate and affirm our belief in the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary to be the final arbitrator of disputes.

"Motlanthe, Mantashe will never undermine these institutions. We seek to protect and strengthen them as the ANC has always done since 1912.

"I believe in a free and independent judiciary that should operate without fear or favour. I believe in the right of equal access to the courts for all South Africans," he said.

The main challenges to the judiciary included not just people's being able to get to court buildings, but that they should have legal representation and be able to understand the proceedings in their own language.

He urged court officials to use recesses to offer free legal advice and for lawyers to become more involved in offering services to the poor.

He said the proverb "justice delayed is justice denied" also applies.

Asked if he thought there could be a conflict of interest if, were he to become president of the country, he had to appoint Constitutional Court judges who may well hear an application by him relating to his legal wrangles, he said one should not "confuse personal challenges and the rules of democracy".

He said the judges went through an application process run by institution (the Judicial Services Commission) which believes in their integrity.

"So people should have no worries, absolutely no worries about that."

He said talk that the reported fighting within the ruling party was "actually democratic contestations within the ANC".

The media sensationalised matters instead of helping inform the country.

Discussion facilitator, University of Johannesburg deputy vice chancellor Adam Habib said a question on what the ANC was doing to prevent possible violence related to his court cases, was not related to the debate and so Zuma did not have to answer it.

He added that Zuma was "not excited" about talking about Zapiro. - Sapa

Published on the Web by IOL on 2008-09-09 18:27:00

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