Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Picture: REUTERS
Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Picture: REUTERS

Recent attacks on the credibility of the judiciary are just a distraction.

This isn’t anything new. We have seen it a number of times, especially when politicians start feeling the heat from the criminal justice system. 

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on Friday addressed the media on these attacks, the final straw being the circulation on social media of a crude list of judges who allegedly received payments from Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2017 ANC presidential campaign, CR17. National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Shamila Batohi was also included on the obviously bogus list.

The list was made up of judges who had ruled against public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the EFF and former president Jacob Zuma.

Any sane person who looked at that list would have known straight away that it was fake and should not have been given any credence.

It started circulating the day the Daily Maverick published a story alleging that EFF leader Julius Malema had benefited from funds embezzled from VBS Mutual Bank.

When Mogoeng was asked why he decided to comment on the allegations made by faceless and nameless sources, he said it was about perception.

“Perceptions need to be countered, particularly when they are serious and they have serious consequences,” the chief justice said.

He also made a comment which is informative in terms of why SA needs and deserves a judiciary which is credible, independent and truly transparent: to root out the “injurious practices” of corruption and capture. 

It is, however, not only faceless voices on social media who have been making disparaging statements about the judiciary. 

It is clear that some of our country’s political players only agree with the judiciary when they rule in their favour, and that it is not too much to stoop to the level of personal attacks when they don’t.

Malema and the EFF have been vocal about their disdain for certain judges and the judgments they have made, while last week former finance minister Trevor Manuel took a jibe at the judge in the Peter Moyo case, calling him “a single individual who happens to wear a robe”.

During the state capture years the judiciary was seen as the last line of defence. Now,  during what is seen to be the clean-up, the courts will in all likelihood once again be the final arbiters. 

Zuma, who was at the centre of the state capture allegations, has already made his disdain for the judiciary and the criminal justice system quite clear, and every time he appears in court on graft charges related to the multi-billion rand arms deal he waxes lyrical about how the prosecution is politically motivated.

Zuma had effectively dismantled the entire criminal justice system during his almost 10 years in office, and with that society lost all confidence in institutions such as the NPA. He tried this with the judiciary but was unsuccessful. 

His most popular line of defence every time he faced legal action was that the prosecution was politically motivated. 

In his most recent attempt to avoid paying back about R16m in legal fees incurred by taxpayers in his fight to avoid corruption charges, Zuma accused the judges who found that he was liable for the costs of having political bias. That came just days after Malema launched a veiled attack on Pretoria High Court judges who had ruled in favour of President Cyril Ramaphosa and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan against Mkhwebane.

It seems Malema is laying the ground for a similar tactic. 

Potential cases are stacking up against the EFF leader and we can expect more of the rhetoric questioning the integrity of the judiciary. 

The strategy seems to be to make sure that enough doubt is cast over the credibility of the judiciary and the criminal justice system so that when the time comes to prosecute him he can do what his political nemesis has always done — blame his demise on political plots.