Justice Malala recently wrote: “These are dangerous times indeed. The state and its leader have gone rogue”. The break-in at the office of the Chief Justice on Saturday shows just how true his words are. This is a direct attack on the judiciary by Jacob Zuma’s state security thugs. The Constitution is what stands between Zuma’s mafia state and the ability to loot with impunity. We would do well to defend it with all our might.
The timing of the break-in is no coincidence. It happened the day after our courts delivered two judgements that dealt significant blows to Zuma’s state capture agenda. The Constitutional Court ruled that Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, a key driver of Zuma’s succession agenda, displayed gross incompetence in fulfilling her duties to ensure that South Africa’s poorest continue to receive social grants.
On the same day, the North Gauteng High Court ruled that Major General Berning Ntlemeza’s appointment as head of the Hawks was irrational and invalid. The Hawks is a specialist police unit, specifically tasked with fighting corruption. Despite two previous court rulings that Ntlemeza is unfit to head it, Police Minister Nhleko, another of Zuma's lackeys, insisted on retaining him. The fact is, our state has been captured by a crime syndicate that cannot tolerate an independent corruption-busting unit that actually does its job. This is why Nhleko is now appealing this ruling, at taxpayers' expense.
These rulings are major setbacks for the Zuma mafia’s state capture agenda. The checks and balances in a constitutional democracy are specifically designed to protect ordinary citizens from the abuse of power. When you control the executive, and have a supine ANC caucus in the legislature, then only the judiciary is left as an obstacle. Our legal benches are filled with independent thinkers who understand objectivity, believe in the rule of law and who defend the Constitution without fear or favour. And it is both fear and favour that Zuma’s mafia is now trying to extract from the judiciary.
The only plausible inference from this bizarre story is that the break-in at the offices of the Chief Justice was deliberately staged in order to intimate judges into submission. Fifteen computers holding the personal information of South Africa’s 250 judges were stolen, from the second floor of a building with dozens of other computers and other valuables in it, all of which were left untouched. The message to judges is clear: oppose us at your peril. If this sounds alarmist, consider that on Monday the house of Zane Dangor, who resigned as Social Development Director General earlier this month in opposition to Dlamini’s handling of the social grants matter, was broken into by two men looking specifically for his laptop. They didn’t get it, because he had it on him and he wasn’t home, but they assaulted his son. The message is clear: talk, and we’ll come for you.
On Wednesday, in a pitiful attempt to portray the break-in at the Chief Justice’s office as a burglary, the Acting National Police Commissioner, Khomotso Phahlane, announced that three arrests had been made. This was a poorly concealed setup: one of the three “suspects” was released the same day with no charges against him, and the charge sheets for the other two contained no mention of the break-in.
A politically intimidated or captured judiciary could leave us in the predicament that Zimbabweans and Venezuelans now face, and that the majority of South Africans faced during Apartheid South Africa: with no-one to turn to for protection from a hostile state. One step the DA would take to prevent this ever happening in South Africa, would be to allocate funds for a security budget for the judiciary. The judiciary shouldn’t have to rely on SAPS for protection, because SAPS answers to the executive.
The fact is, the judiciary is a direct threat to Zuma’s state capture project and he is using all available levers to fight it. For the Zuma mafia, nothing is sacred. They are taking a scorched earth approach to secure their survival. Very soon, those within the ANC who treasure our constitutional democracy will have to choose between their party, or a prosperous, free South Africa governed by a diverse group of people, bound by their steadfast commitment to the Constitution and its rule of law.
This article by Mmusi Maimane first appeared in Bokamoso, the online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance.