In addressing the media in response to an article by Minister of Tourism Lindiwe Sisulu published last Friday (January 7), Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo made it clear that the judiciary has never said that it should not be criticised and its members accept that they may be criticised.
However, Zondo said the criticism should be fair and factual.
He emphasised that Sisulu’s attack was not criticism, but “an insult to the justices of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal, Judges President and Heads of the Superior Courts, and all the African judges who serve their country with distinction and determination to uphold the Constitution”.
Zondo said an important aspect of Sisulu’s article is that it is “rich in insults but poor in substantiation and any analysis … it does not refer to any judgments that have been analysed to justify her conclusions”.
Zondo recounted some of Sisulu’s more egregious insults: “Indigenous Law has been reduced to a footnote” in law books, and the judiciary “is happy to lick the spittle of those who claim superiority”. Sisulu also referred to the judiciary as “mentally colonised Africans”.
Sisulu’s insults are “most regrettable … I would have expected at least that she would have had some facts to back up what she is saying”.
Zondo added that if Sisulu had some (substantiating) facts she would have included them.
He remarked that it is not acceptable in a constitutional democracy such as South Africa’s that a senior member of parliament and the executive could wake up one morning and decide to write an article insulting all judges, including all African judges. “It should not be acceptable,” he said.
“It is very important that we draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.
“We have done more than others to do our job. We have taken the oath that guides our work. We took this oath seriously. We will continue to do our work in accordance with our oath.”
Guardians of the Constitution
In delivering the keynote address on the country’s fourth Judiciary Day on December 14, Zondo mentioned that the courts had done well as guardians of the Constitution, and that this “has sometimes attracted serious attacks against the judiciary”.
“Over the past 25 years there have been storms that the judiciary has gone through but it has managed to continue to play its role to protect and uphold the Constitution and the rights contained in the Bill of Rights.”
He added that despite not knowing what the next 25 years will hold: “Courts and the judiciary must continue to protect our constitutional democracy for the next 25 years and beyond.”
Zondo quoted former president Nelson Mandela who, on inaugurating the Constitutional Court on February 14, 1995, said:
“The last time I appeared in court was to hear whether or not I was going to be sentenced to death. Fortunately for myself and my colleagues we were not. Today I rise not as an accused but, on behalf of the people of South Africa, to inaugurate a court South Africa has never had, a court on which hinges the future of our democracy.”
Zondo said it is up to the arms of state to deal with Sisulu’s unwarranted attack on the judiciary, and advised the judiciary to “continue to do your work in accordance with your office no matter what”.
“Our judgments will speak for us,” he said.
The timing – by accident or design?
Sisulu’s attack comes at an importune time as just days prior, on Tuesday January 4, the first part of the Judicial Commission of Enquiry into State Capture report was released – revealing the Zondo Commission’s findings and recommendations resulting from three years of holding hearings, carrying out investigations, and gathering evidence.
It appears that she is attacking those who will be holding the corrupt accountable.
Is she trying to delegitimise and destabilise the judiciary so that it will be less able to hold those responsible for state capture to account for their crimes?
Was Sisulu’s onslaught part of an organised campaign to attack the judiciary; to attack its raison d’être?
Last Wednesday, just two days before her article was published, someone physically attacked the judiciary by smashing the windows of the Constitutional Court.
Either way, when a senior member of parliament and a member of the executive council attacks and insults the upholders of the law and the Constitution, one could be forgiven for seeing this saga through the image of a snake eating its own tail.