We respect judicial independence, says Zuma

A call to reform South Africa’s judiciary does not mean judges’ independence will be compromised, President Jacob Zuma said on Monday, seeking to allay concern about judicial autonomy under his rule.

Zuma caused a stir before he was elected president in April when he said the judiciary needed to change and judges should not be above criticism.

Zuma battled corruption and graft charges for years before they were dropped on a technicality two weeks before the general election. His supporters criticised the judiciary, with some saying there were “counter-revolutionary” forces in the system.

On Monday, Zuma told a judges’ conference: “Let me from the onset state that the transformation of the judiciary should be advanced and undertaken without interfering with the principle of judicial independence.”

“An independent judiciary is one of the cornerstones of any democracy. As the executive we respect without reservation the principle of judicial independence and the rule of law.” But he said judges could be criticised.

“All South Africans accept the fact that the judiciary is the final arbiter of all disputes ...
However, that does not mean that the judiciary and other dispute resolution institutions should be beyond criticism.”

“Criticism of the said institutions is allowed and indeed proper in a democratic society, but it should be fair and informed,” Zuma said.

Last month, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille accused the ANC of using the transformation of the judiciary as a smokescreen for creating a bench that will serve the ruling party’s agenda.

Zille said since 55% of judges were black, racial diversification of the judiciary was on track.

There was therefore no need to take unprecedented steps to hasten transformation.

“Racial diversification of the bench is proceeding apace. Ironically, though, the ANC is driving its ‘transformation’ agenda harder than ever before,” she wrote in June .

“The reason, again, is that the ANC is not actually arguing for a more racially diverse bench.

“It wants a bench that is subservient to the racial ideology, policies and political control of the party-state.”—Reuters

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