/ 31 March 2008

Zuma ‘does not encourage confidence’

African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma has failed to inspire confidence during his first few months at the party’s helm, says University of South Africa (Unisa) rector Barney Pityana.

”We now enter a new era. It is a time shrouded in anxiety and uncertainty with the looming presidency of Jacob Zuma and a new assertive leadership of the ANC,” he told the Law Society of South Africa’s annual general meeting in Stellenbosch on Monday.

”To many of us, Jacob Zuma, popularly elected by the branch delegates at Polokwane in December 2007, remains a flawed character in his moral conduct; he has been indicted for serious crimes that involve corruption and dishonesty.

”So far he does not encourage confidence in his understanding of policy, appearing as he does in the short-term to be making policy pronouncements on the hoof depending on who he wishes to appease at any one moment.

”We have seen the leader flip-flop on crucial matters of policy — the death penalty; silence when his supporters mount a savage and uninformed attack on the judges, ostensibly with his concurrence; the dance of backstep on the reform of the labour market, and so on,” Pityana said.

”Anyone aspiring to become a head of state must understand the obligation that binds one to honour the spirit and the letter of the Constitution, to order their personal conduct as if it is an open constitutional text [and] to internalise its precepts as binding on one’s life.”

This is true of judges, ministers of state and others who hold public office.

Failure to do so will discredit the Constitution and erode an essential seal binding the nation, holding it together and inspiring confidence.

”That is the reason South Africans should be very concerned when the ANC Youth League confronts the deputy president of the Constitutional Court about remarks he is reported to have made at a private function, and the sentiment about the integrity and independence of judges that is thrown up, the effect of which is clearly to intimidate the judiciary.

”That is the reason that as a people we should be worried, very worried, when the integrity of judges is being put under question without justification,” Pityana said.

”We should equally be concerned when sitting judges appear to be behaving in a manner that is calculated to undermine the honour due to and status of judges.”

Popularising the criminal habit

The fact of the matter is that when leaders behave in a manner that shows a disregard for the law, or who are indicted for serious crimes, or who marshal supporters to demonstrate within the precincts of the courts, they are popularising criminal conduct.

And when political rhetoric is being used as a shield to avoid or to stigmatise scrutiny, they make criminal conduct and the defence of those under criminal investigation a political project of the same virtue as fighting for one’s rights.

This is the same as electing convicted criminals to high political office, by advocating criminal conduct as political and thus making it acceptable to subvert the law.

”Malcolm Gladwell, writing about the manner in which New York City turned around the scourge of crime on the streets … warns against normalising criminal conduct, or mainstreaming deviance such that leaders by their conduct ‘give permission’ to others to behave likewise,” Pityana said.

When leaders do that they numb citizens to aversion to such conduct and make it a very attractive ”cat-and-mouse” game as long as one does not get caught.

”If that argument holds then rape and violence against women would not be an aversion that it should become, but a matter of affording the best criminal lawyer and succeed in casting doubt on the integrity of the accuser.”

The popularisation of crime of certain types puts paid to the statements about leniency on crime.

The problem is less that criminals are ”lightly treated” by the criminal justice system, but that society has become numbed by crime to the extent that citizens have become paralysed and unwilling to intervene.

Police do not receive assistance in their investigations from citizens.

”Trains are set on fire by commuters, and no one will come forward to report the criminals,” he said. — Sapa