EFF you: Malema’s middle finger to the courts
If SA’s political parties arrogate to themselves the right to make crucial decisions based on their version of truth, our democracy itself is under threat
One of the silver linings of the 2008 financial crisis, if you were a lawyer, was that bankers moved ahead of you to take the top spot on Time Magazine’s list of most loathed professions.*
Subsequently, with the revelations of the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers investigations, Swiss Leaks, and countless other examples of banks behaving illegally, unethically and just plain evilly, the nasty machinations of your average lawyer seemed relatively benign.
Generally, lawyers just ruin individuals’ lives, not the futures of entire populations.
But bankers will be happy to know that those pioneers of aggressively oppositional politicking, the ANC and the EFF, are introducing contempt for the law as part of their strategies. So with a bit of luck — and with some creative spin by the parties, as they scramble to break down the pesky legal barriers that make corruption and state capture way more difficult than they promise you at politician school — practitioners of the law are set to move ahead of bankers on the leaderboard of the loathed.
Of course, both have a long way to go before they’re as distrusted as politicians and journalists, but hey: Rome wasn’t pillaged in a day.
A prime example of how our political parties are trying to evade the rule of law is the reaction to last week’s Joburg high court finding against the EFF.
In 2018, those merry red pranksters sent out a media release accusing respected journalists Thandeka Gqubule and Anton Harber of having been apartheid "Stratcom" agents.
The release said: "Former apartheid special branch police have indicated that they had 40 journalists on their payroll working to destroy Mama Winnie Mandela. In a video recently released by Huffington Post, Mama Winnie Mandela mentions the current editor of economic news in the SABC, Thandeka Gqubule, and Anton Harber, former editor at eNCA and a Wits media and journalism professor, as having worked for Stratcom."
The judge found this classic misinformation labelling of Gqubule and Harber to be unlawful, and ordered the EFF, within 24 hours of the granting of the order, to "remove the statements from all their media platforms, including their website and [EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni] Ndlozi’s Twitter account, and to publish a notice on platforms where the statements had been published in which they unconditionally retract and apologise".
In what must rank as a very petulant act, even for a party noted for petulant acts — take, for example, its MPs stamping their feet and storming out of parliament when they don’t get their way — the EFF published its apology on Twitter at 3.03am.
It reads, in full: "In terms of the court order, we unconditionally retract and apologise for the allegations made against Mrs Thandeka Gqubule-Mbeki and Mr Anton Harber."
That’s also the full text of the apology on the EFF website, buried on a secondary page.
You’ll notice there’s no mention of what the allegations were, which means there’s no way of telling what they’re apologising for. So the apology does little, if anything, to counter the misinformation the party has put into the world.
There’s also that passive-aggressive "in terms of the court order", indicating defiance and reluctance in equal measure. It’s almost as if the EFF is sending a message to its supporters: "We’re being forced to do this, but we know, and you know, what’s true." Which is pretty much as you would expect from the party whose Beloved Leader’s Twitter bio reads: "Fools get blocked."
Points 49 and 50 of judge Lebogang Modiba’s ruling provide a fascinating insight into the way political parties think about the truth.
As political parties scramble to break down the legal barriers that make corruption more difficult, practitioners of the law are set to move ahead of bankers on the leaderboard of the loathed
The EFF "suggested that the allegations are true as they were made by a person they consider to have credibility in the person of Ms Madikizela-Mandela", Modiba says.
"Another postulation they have advanced is that since the applicants were politically active during apartheid, it is probable that they were used by Stratcom without their knowledge as that was one [of] its methodologies."
So one of the EFF’s defences appeared to be: "It must be true because we believe the person saying it." This is the litmus test for truth that most political parties would prefer: "It’s true because we say it is."
As the judgment drily puts it: "The [EFF] statements peddle Ms Madikizela-Mandela’s allegations against the applicants as a factual truth, yet the respondents have not placed any evidence before this court in support of Ms Madikizela-Mandela’s allegations."
But, judge! We told you it was true! Why are you ignoring our evidence?
My favourite bit, though, is where the EFF says it could have happened — Harber and Gqubule could have been used by Stratcom — without anyone knowing about it.
Here, absence of proof becomes proof. And that, dear reader, is the quintessential move of your classic dictator. If you’re not guilty, you must be hiding something.
Again, I couldn’t improve on the judge’s words. "In light of the respondents’ statement that the 40 journalists were on Stratcom’s payroll, their postulation that the applicants were used by Stratcom without their knowledge is irrational."
Actually, I could. I’d replace the word "irrational" with "incredibly stupid".
It’s not just the EFF that finds the courts and constitution an annoying drag on its political and personal aspirations (which are pretty much the same thing for our strain of cadre-capitalism).
There’s our ambassador to Denmark, Zindzi Mandela, who’s famous for such classic tweets as "I am not accountable to any white man or woman for my personal views. No missus or baas here. Get over yourselves", and "Whilst I wine and dine here … wondering how the world of shivering land thieves is doing #OurLand".
In response to a tweet from Harber about the court ruling, Mandela tweeted: "This victory is temporary. God/The Universe is on the side of the truth … even if it takes 20 years."
She tagged EFF leader Julius Malema and Ndlozi on the tweet.
So that’s something to look forward to, then — when it’s God (in the person of his spokesparty, the EFF, one assumes), who gets to make calls on what’s true and what’s false rather than those irritating judges with their so-called laws.
Or, if not God, then his other representative on earth, an ANC-appointed minister of land reform (or "land tsar", to use the Sunday Times’s dramatic description).
"The ANC is proposing a dramatic change to a constitutional amendment allowing expropriation of land without compensation, in a move that effectively cuts out the courts and gives a ‘land tsar’ almost unlimited powers," the newspaper reported this week.
The rationale, we are told by the ANC’s Mathole Motshekga, the leader of an ad hoc committee on land reform, is that the courts take too long to determine compensation. And, he warns us, "landowners who have seen the example of Zimbabwe should be more supportive of this process because you don’t want groups of people invading the land".
What it means:
The EFF and ANC are showing a disturbing tendency to paint our courts as irrelevant
"This is an orderly process. If they don’t support this they are opening themselves up to the law of the jungle. We don’t want a banana republic and we don’t want the law of the jungle."
One would think that cutting out the courts is pretty much a definition of "law of the jungle", but hey.
Actual land experts have pointed out that the fault is not with the courts, but with incredibly incompetent government processes.
This column isn’t intended to be a discussion of the merits of expropriation without compensation, though. It should be self-evident that, as former public protector Thuli Madonsela has said, land "is an explosive issue. The politicians may be handling it for whatever reason, but if it’s not handled it has [the] potential to derail democracy."
We need the government to make land reform happen — and to make it happen fast. But we don’t need a democracy in which politicians view the courts as an enemy, and where they arrogate to themselves the right to make crucial decisions based on their own versions of the truth.
We’ve noted how the running maggots of state capture tried to destroy the institutions that keep our democracy safe. What we’re seeing now, from political parties seeking to erode trust in the courts and supplant them, is just another version of that.
*Not a real list; don’t bother googling it