/ 30 June 2017

JZ questions using courts for political disputes

President Jacob Zuma.
President Jacob Zuma.

President Jacob Zuma has accused opposition parties of displaying behaviour that is “counter to democracy” by using the courts to settle political scores.

Zuma was speaking at the ANC’s national policy conference on Friday, where he affirmed the party’s commitment to judicial and media independence.

While he maintained that he respected the role of the courts as the final arbiter of disputes, he criticised opposition parties for failing to accept the principle of democracy — that the majority rules.

“You argue in Parliament and when the opposition is defeated they say ‘Okay, we’re going to court’. The debate in Parliament these days ends up in court. Is that the democracy?”

But while Zuma blamed opposition parties for abusing the judicial system in political battles, in his diagnostic report ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the behaviour of the party’s leaders was partly to blame for the threat of judicial overreach.

In his report presented to the national executive committee on Tuesday, ahead of the conference, Mantashe said the inability of leaders to admit fault when they were wrong was seeing the party become negatively affected by continuous court battles.

“The fact that in order to correct basic mistakes, sometimes genuine mistakes, we get directed by courts communicates a message of a party that does not know the difference between wrong and right,” said Mantashe.

Zuma surprised some observers with some unexpected support for media freedom. “The ANC promotes the rights of journalists to work freely, safely and without hindrance in our country. We also promote media independence from various interests, professionalism as well as balanced and accurate reporting at all times.”

Zuma’s support comes a day after the death of SABC journalist Suna Venter, who had recently been diagnosed with stress cardiomyopathy, a condition linked to unusually prolonged periods of stress.

Venter, who was one of eight journalists suspended by the SABC for voicing their concern over editorial policies, had faced months of intimidation and death threats, believed to be linked to her stance against censorship at the embattled public broadcaster.