The Maytrix argues that in the pursuit of individuals, South Africa has set dangerous precedents that will come to haunt us.
The statement, “I’m out for presidents to represent me” is bellowed-out by a rapper in a song aptly titled, “The World Is Yours”. The statement is then sampled in a chorus on another song titled, “Dead Presidents”. The message is simple, the stronger the institutions the less important the president becomes.
We then move from a position of a president being influential to one of being a mere figure-head. An institution, of which a country is an amalgamation, remains strong regardless of who leads it. I argue that precedents substitute presidents. The precedents we set enslave us. So we ought to be careful.
Let’s have a look at some of the dangerous precedents we have set in the pursuit of individuals we wanted dealt with.
Former health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s medical records were splattered all over the papers when her liver became the basis of much satire and all other forms of ridicule. The charge was that she stood in the way of the mass distribution of ARVs. The precedent is that it is justified to make public confidential records when we do not agree with a public official on an issue.
Former president Thabo Mbeki was yanked out of office after losing support of his own comrades in the run-up and aftermath of the Polokwane elective conference. The reason was that he had been found by a court to have abused state institutions to tackle political opponents. The precedent that was set then has led many to pray, hope and expect any court ruling against president Jacob Zuma should lead to similar.
DA-linked Mike Hellens ruled, as acting judge in the DA-SMS case that it was fair comment to say that President Jacob Zuma had stolen money after he was found to have unduly benefited from the Nkandla security upgrades. The precedent is that one needn’t actually steal to be accused of stealing. You also can’t just sue for defamation because a court may just find such defamation to be fair comment.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan stands accused of setting up an illegal spying unit when he was SARS commissioner. A number of ANC stalwarts and “respected” public figures are vociferous in their defence of his actions, to the point of discrediting any attempts to prosecute him over that illegal spying unit. The precedent is that it is okay for state organs to illegally spy on citizens as long as they have political support.
SARS Deputy Director of Law Vlok Symington recently reported a case of kidnapping after being held against his will by members of the Hawks. The Independent Police Investigate Directorate (IPID) is currently investigating the actions of the members of the Hawks. Symington has received overwhelming support from various quarters of society with many lamenting what they see as abuse of state institutions. The precedent being set is that law enforcement officials may well be guilty of kidnapping should they show-up announced at your place of work and detain you until they get what they say they need from you.
NPA prosecutors, Lawrence Mrwebi and Nomgcobo Jiba have been disbarred for “doing everything in their power to protect former crime intelligence’s Richard Mdluli. They were accused of having brought the profession into disrepute. The precedent set by the case is that someone like EFF chair, Dali Mpofu, who allegedly tried soliciting help from deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to get the president to sign him into silk status, can now be taken to court for bringing the state into disrepute. What stops either Mrwebi or Jiba from doing so, out of spite or consistency? Mind you, Mpofu is a member of the Bar that brought the application against the two.
Des Van Rooyen was hired as finance minister to replace Nhlanhla Nene. The rand caught a seizure, markets did backflips and the bankers descended upon the ANC leadership demanding a reversal. They got what they asked for. The precedent set is that you can use the economy to dictate the politics. For that reason, black people should probably forget about ever living that economic freedom. It’s true powers are too much to be handed over.
When the High Court in Tshwane ruled that it was okay for opposition parties to oppose interdict applications by president Zuma, Minerals Minister Mosebenzi Zwane and Van Rooyen, a number of people started calling for public officials to start paying for legal costs whenever they lose court cases. This is all good and well until one realizes that it means the next time right-wing trade union, Solidarity wants to take a government department to court for appointing or promoting blacks, then said department may opt to not oppose such court action out of fear of having to face the cost persecution. Moreover, by now everyone ought to be aware just how opposition parties like the DA tend to run courts whenever they fail to win a political battle. Should public officials start fearing defending themselves in court against right wing elements, we might as well hand the state over to the DA.