The African National Congress (ANC) on Friday shrugged off criticisms that recent remarks by its secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, amounted to an attack on the independence of the judiciary.
He was entitled to voice his concerns when judges conducted themselves improperly, the party wrote in its online publication, ANC Today.
”While society must continually defend the independence and integrity of the judiciary, there is equally a responsibility on judges themselves to uphold the highest standards of fairness, honesty and objectivity.”
Like all public institutions, the judiciary should expect its actions to be scrutinised, discussed and criticised. ”That is not unhealthy in a democracy.”
However, the party denied that Mantashe had labelled judges as counter-revolutionary, saying he had been misquoted.
”Mantashe did not say that the actions of the Constitutional Court judges were counter-revolutionary. But he did say that their actions brought the highest court in the land into disrepute,” read the article.
In his speech at the ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial conference two weeks ago, Mantashe was reported to have described the judges as counter-revolutionary.
While the ANC admitted that Mantashe had used the term ”counter-revolutionary” during his speech, it said the statement was not directed at the judges.
”Reporters … made no distinction between those forces that were ‘counter-revolutionary’ and those whose actions had placed the ANC ‘under siege’. They are not necessarily the same, and he had not suggested that they were necessarily the same,” the ANC said.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian published on July 4, Mantashe said his remarks stemmed from concerns over what appeared to be a concerted effort by ”counter-revolutionary forces”, including the Constitutional Court and opposition parties.
”He [Zuma] is the president of the ANC,” he said. ”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 says it is an innocent attack on him. We will know that it is an attack on the ANC.”
M&G editor Ferial Haffajee said on Friday the paper is in possession of a tape where Mantashe is heard saying the judges were ”counter-revolutionary”.
She said Mantashe, who usually calls her when he not happy with a story in the paper, had not phoned her to complain about the story. ”He has not complained nor requested an apology. My colleague has a tape recording of the interview,” she said.