Helen Zille. Picture: SOWETAN
Helen Zille. Picture: SOWETAN

The high court’s dismissal of Helen Zille’s application to review the public protector’s finding against her was met with undisguised and expected glee, not only from the public protector’s office but from the mainstream media too.

Notably, the ANC was quiet, as it has been throughout the recent DA eruptions, clearly content to let others do its work for it. Why a supposedly liberal media that considers itself fact-based and responsible regularly knee-jerkingly lambastes the DA without rational analysis is a mystery worthy of serious research.

However,  I do not think I am alone in being surprised about the court’s decision, since as well as being convoluted it was overly emotionally charged. When UCT professor Pierre de Vos, in the only in-depth legal comment I have seen, says it was “not easy to follow”,  I presume he was using a respectful euphemistic legal term for “incomprehensible”.

If my understanding of the judgment is correct the court acknowledged there may have been an error in law, but decided such an error did not breach the principle of legality and was therefore not reviewable.

No doubt an appeal court will clarify whether a material error in law that leads to an irrational decision is reviewable, considering that an unreasonable decision is defined as one “that was so unreasonable that no reasonable person acting reasonably could have made it”.

The court also found that the infamous colonial tweets were capable of stirring up violence, saying, “the best evidence in this regard is the angry and threatening tweets that were sent by the public”.  Another court may on the other hand think that if that is the “best evidence” it is no evidence at all, since angry tweeters do not represent a cross-section of the public. More to the point, no violence was stirred.

Sydney Kaye

Cape Town

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