African National Congress (ANC) secretary general Gwede Mantashe has launched an extraordinary attack on the country’s top judges, suggesting their bombshell complaint against Cape Judge President John Hlophe is an orchestrated conspiracy to undermine ANC president Jacob Zuma.
In an exclusive interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, Mantashe accused the Constitutional Court judges of being an element of the ”counter-revolutionary forces” seeking the destruction of Zuma and the ANC.
Mantashe’s outburst seems part of a concerted offensive by the ruling alliance. ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe has also criticised the court over Hlophe.
Earlier this year, the ANC and the ANC Youth League attacked the Deputy Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke, after his reported remark that ”I have chosen my work very carefully. It is not what the ANC wants or what delegates want; it is about what is good for our people.”
In addition, Congress of South African Trade Unions leader Zwelinzima Vavi has assailed the South African Human Rights Commission, a Chapter 9 constitutional watchdog, as ”liberal” and ”yesterday’s guardian of human rights”.
Mantashe’s remarks came a month after the Constitutional Court lodged a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission, stating that Hlophe had allegedly improperly tried to influence the court’s judges in relation to cases involving Zuma.
Zuma has repeatedly distanced himself from Hlophe, saying that the judge president’s approaches to the judges were made without his knowledge. This week Hlophe also denied being ”mandated” to approach the judges, despite claims by Constitutional Court Judge Bess Nkabinde that he had claimed to have a mandate.
In this week’s interview, Mantashe said Hlophe was a scapegoat and the judges’ move against him was a pretext to hit at Zuma.
Mantashe first expressed his views on the Hlophe saga during a closed session at the ANC Youth League conference at Nasrec, Johannesburg, last Saturday.
He appealed to delegates there to ”watch this space”, saying the controversy over the Hlophe matter was a scene-setting move by the judges of the Constitutional Court for an attack on Zuma.
”This is psychological preparation of society so that when the Constitutional Court judges pounce on our president we should be ready at that point in time,” Mantashe told the delegates.
”Our revolution is in danger; we must declare to defend it till the end,” he said.
‘You hit the head, you kill the snake’
This week, Mantashe confirmed his remarks to the M&G, saying they were born out of concerns about what appeared to be a concerted effort by ”counter-revolutionary forces”, including the Constitutional Court, the United Democratic Movement, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Democratic Alliance.
”What we are reminding our young people of is that they must always appreciate that a revolutionary movement and the revolution can never be taken for granted. It will have to be protected at all times. That’s why I said if you attack the president of the ANC consistently, you can’t look at him as an individual.
”He is the president of the ANC. You hit the head, you kill the snake. When there is that attack on him it is a concerted attack on the head of the ANC.
”Everybody will say it is an innocent attack on him. We will know that it is an attack on the ANC,” said Mantashe.
Asked whether he did not see his remarks as an attack on the judiciary, Mantashe said: ”Every time we talk about judges we are accused of attacking the judiciary.
”But what do you do when the judiciary goes public on something that they should be dealing with in their own internal processes … and actually creates a hullabaloo around that issue?
”We are saying this is a psychological preparation of society for their [judges] pouncing. The issue there is not Hlophe … it’s Zuma. The Constitutional Court is sitting in judgement on Zuma. They create a hullabaloo in public that is preparing society for their pouncing. That is the issue.
”They must give the judgement and not prepare us. They must not use Hlophe as a scapegoat to hit at Zuma,” said Mantashe.
”We are watching this [the Hlophe] case very closely. We are watching what it is that they [the Constitutional Court judges] don’t want to say they want to do, that they are preparing us for.”
Mantashe said the ANC might be critical of the behaviour of individual Constitutional Court judges but that this should not be seen as an attack on the judiciary.
”I don’t think anybody should attack the judiciary. The judiciary is opening itself up. So why do you attack an institution that opens itself up?”
He also took aim at the constitutionally protected Human Rights Commission (HRC), particularly referring to its criticism of moves to launch an all-black journalists’ forum.
”When black journalists assemble, the HRC comes out and shouts the same day. When a coloured movement is launched in the Western Cape, that HRC will keep quiet as if nothing is happening.
”When you see that uneven handling of issues you begin to know that there is something wrong with these Chapter 9 institutions. They are actually discrediting themselves. My view is that if Chapter 9 institutions want to be respected in society and to be protected, their behaviour should be beyond reproach.”
What Hlophe has conceded and denied
On Judge Chris Jafta
Hlophe admits to their friendship and their association since the days when the two taught at the University of Transkei.
He denies arriving at Jafta’s chambers ”uninvited”, saying he had arranged to meet him beforehand. He denies attempting to ”improperly” influence Jafta in the case involving Zuma, asserting that he merely remarked that the court must be ”very busy” as it had before it an important matter involving Zuma and Thint. ”Numerous files of record” in Jafta’s chambers prompted him, he says.
He says Jafta replied that the Zuma/Thint case was a ”brain-teaser demanding a focused application of the mind to the complex issues involved”.
Hlophe says Jafta at no stage suggested he was ”uncomfortable” about the content of their conversation and that his (Hlophe’s) interest in the Zuma case merely stemmed from similar cases in his division.
He confirms a ”confidential” part of their conversation.
On Judge Bess Nkabinde
Hlophe denies the Constitutional Court’s allegation that Jafta warned Nkabinde that Hlophe planned to visit her. He says Nkabinde welcomed him cordially into her chambers after they agreed to meet on a previous occasion. He also confirms speaking to Nkabinde about her Zulu surname.
He denies discussing the merits of the privilege matter with Nkabinde.
On his ”intelligence links”
Hlophe says he personally raised the question of privilege, and that he said ”sisethembele kinina” (”you are our last hope”) after Jafta questioned whether his ”white colleagues” shared his and Jafta’s view on the issue.
He denies having prior knowledge that Nkabinde was working on a note on privilege, adding that he learnt about the privilege issue by following the case in the media and that the General Bar Council had issued a statement on the matter.
He also denies claiming links with the intelligence community and that he said some judges would lose their jobs after Zuma took over as South Africa’s president.
On his ”mandate” to raise the Zuma matter
Hlophe argues that Nkabinde misunderstood him, as he merely said he had a mandate from Chief Justice Pius Langa to chair the local organising committee of the Commonwealth Conference on Judges and Magistrates.
On Judge Ngcobo
Hlophe says he visited the judge for about 15 minutes in his chambers and that Ngcobo then walked him to his car. During this time he bumped into judges Nkabinde and Madala. Hlophe does not divulge what he discussed with Ngcobo.