STATEMENT BY SUNDAY TIMES EDITOR, RAY HARTLEY
The decision by acting Judge Nomsa Khumalo of the Pretoria High Court that the Sunday Times can publish the article “How Zuma got off the hook” represents a victory for free speech.
The judge ruled that the NPA had failed to argue that there were grounds for an urgent interdict against the newspaper and awarded costs to the Sunday Times.
The story by a award-winning investigations unit (Stephan Hofstatter, Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Rob Rose) is based on over 300 pages of leaked documentation, which show that top prosecutors were convinced they had a winning case against Jacob Zuma. Despite this, the then Acting head of public prosecutions, Mokotedi Mpshe overuled them and dropped the charges in 2009.
The story includes details of secret representations made by Zuma’s lawyers to the NPA and a series of internal memorandums in which top prosecutors argue strongly against dropping the charges despite claims that the prosecution was tainted by political interference. Their argument was essentially that political interference should not trump the merits of the case which they believed to be strong enough for a successful prosecution.
Sadly, the NPA has said it intends bringing a fresh court action against the Sunday Times this week on the grounds that the documents were illegally obtained. This too will fail because the documents were leaked to the Sunday Times and are demonstrably in the public interest.
Instead of trying to keep vital information away from the public, the NPA would do well to heed the constitution’s call for an “open” society and its protection of freedom of expression. Its dogged attempts to protect certain political leaders from public scrutiny are raising serious doubts about its ability to serve the public with the independence and integrity required of a prosecuting authority.
What is chilling is that if the Protection of Information Bill is passed in its current form, this sort of reporting will become illegal.
PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma’s decision to abstain from public discussion on matters of great public importance is reinforcing the view that South Africa has no decisive leadership.
Over the past several weeks, devastating criticisms have been levelled at several of the government’s most senior leaders.
The public protector, Thuli Madonsela, has released her final report on how key leaders wrongly consented to the signing of two dodgy leases to the tune of R1.78-billion for police buildings in Pretoria and Durban.
Her report makes it plain that, between them, the Minister of Public Works, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, and police commissioner General Bheki Cele flouted regulations, ignored tender rules and seriously abused the trust placed in them to use public money wisely.
In Mahlangu-Nkabinde’s case, Madonsela specifically directed the president to take action. In Cele’s case, she called on the Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, to act.
Zuma has not only failed to act, but has offered no explanation of how he intends to deal with this matter, showing contempt for Madonsela and for the public.
There are other signs that Zuma is failing to exercise presidential authority.
Three of his ministers have decided to challenge the ruling of the Competition Commission on Walmart in what can only be described as an act of immature political defiance against a government structure.
That a foreign investor can one week be allowed by a regulator appointed and regulated by the government to invest, only to find that the government challenging its own decision the next, is deeply perplexing.
That the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, is not part of this action suggests that it does not enjoy the support of Zuma’s entire cabinet.
It is worth asking if the absence of leadership has become so grave that Zuma no longer has authority over all his ministers.
Zuma’s strength is his ability to bring together those who disagree. His weakness is that he is unable to take a position which might alienate one or another member of the coalition that brought him to power in Polokwane.
Thus the ANC’s youth leader, Julius Malema, is able to say or do almost anything without consequences.
Left-leaning ministers who see foreign investors as evil imperialists are allowed to go to court to challenge decisions made by government bodies.
And appalling financial decisions such as those made by Cele and Mahlangu-Nkabinde go unpunished.
Zuma had better wake up to the fact that he is putting his weakness on display. He will not survive as leader unless he shows he has the mettle for the job.
@This is a draft leader for the Sunday Times
IT took days and thousands of Internet rumours for the authorities to come to their senses and issue a detailed formal statement on the health of former president, Nelson Mandela.
At noon on Friday, the deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe ended speculation that Mandela was at death’s door with these words:
“Madiba is well. He is receiving the best treatment from top doctors. There is no need for us to panic. There is no reason for us to fear for Madiba’s health.”
Motlanthe was speaking at Johannesburg’s Milpark hospital, until then off-limits to journalists.
Motlanthe, it must be said, prefaced his remarks by thanking the media for expressing the fears and concerns of the nation over Mandela’s health.
He seemed bemused by the extent of the attention given to Mandela, comparing it to an incident eight years ago when Mandela had been admitted to hospital with barely any interest shown.
Two important changes have taken place since then. The first is that Mandela has aged by eight years and, at 92, is much frailer than he was back in 2002.
The second is the advent of social media and the rise of public reporting on events.
Government would do well to ask itself what it is doing to adapt to this new media environment.
It is now possible for anyone with a cellphone to publish news and information to a national audience of what might be described as “key-influencers” via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
These mediums have brought greater freedom, variety and penetration to news, but they come at a price.
They are very good at allowing the events witnessed by users to reach a larger audience, but not accurate sources of hard news which is at some remove.
They do not employ the sorts of accuracy and fairness checks that newspapers such as this insist on prior to publication.
Most of the time these wild reports are treated for what they are: The sometimes witty thumbings of the uninformed.
But when they tap into a national anxiety such as that over the health of President Nelson Mandela, the dumbest thumb becomes a powerful sources of rumour.
Responding requires both agility and speed. Government and perhaps other institutions such as the Nelson Mandela Foundation, need to make their voices heard in real time and on the right platforms, mowing down rumours and speculation with detail and facts.
They would make a grave mistake if they believe that Twitter is an elitist phenomenon in a country where almost every adult carries a cellphone. Motlanthe did well to put out the fire, but he would not have needed to do this if communication had been open from the start.
THE proposed ban on the advertising of liquor is another example of how the state wishes to play an increasing nannying role in the private lives of its citizens.
What our society needs is an efficient education system that produces strong, independent thinkers who are capable of making responsible decisions about alcohol.
Unlike tobacco, which is harmful however small the dose, and which impacts on non-smokers who involuntarily inhale “second-hand smoke”, alcohol cannot be stereotyped as bad for the health of the consumer or those in the vicinity of the consumer.
There are many studies that show that the moderate consumption of wine, for example, reduces heart disease and leads to a longer, healthier life.
The overwhelming majority of alcohol consumers are responsible, do not drink and drive, and do not destroy their families through abuse.
The government believes that it can reduce the damage caused by the few abusers by treating the whole of society as offenders.
It should ask itself why substances such as cocaine, heroin and marijuana, which are banned and are certainly not advertised, continue to be used. The answer is that the social causes of such use — chiefly poor self-esteem, failed education and lack of employment — have never been adequately addressed.
If the government focused on doing its job — providing proper education, creating an environment for rapid employment growth, and reducing organised crime, it would radically reduce alcoholism. Banning advertisements will have no effect on alcohol abuse.
SELF-FULFILLING prophecy is the catch phrase that’s being thrown around to explain this week’s attacks on foreigners.
Some are angry with those who have published warnings that plans were afoot to launch attacks on foreigners after the World Cup.
They believe that unsubstantiated rumours have been given oxygen, in turn inspiring acts of aggression against foreigners.
Those who have published such stories have defended themselves, pointing out how the media’s a failure to heed such warnings combined with a failure by government to act two years ago resulted in a blood bath.
The reality is that this debate takes us nowhere. Read More…
Opening remarks by His Excellency President J G Zuma at the Inaugural Meeting of the National Planning Commission, Union Buildings, Pretoria
11 May 2010
It is an honour to address this inaugural meeting of the National Planning Commission.
This is indeed an historic occasion. It is with much anticipation that the country has awaited the establishment of this Commission.
For the first time in our country’s history we will begin to chart our way forward in a purposeful manner with a view to the country’s long-term interests.
I would like to extend a very special welcome to our newly-appointed Commissioners. It is a pleasure to meet all of you in person. Read More…
Statement by President Jacob Zuma on the appointment of Commissioners to the National Planning Commission; Presidential Guesthouse, Pretoria, April 30 2010
Last year we announced that the new administration would do things differently and would work consistently to change the way government works, in order to improve service delivery.
A key aspect of this exercise was to introduce effective planning as well as monitoring and evaluation capacity in the Presidency, to guide these functions in government.
Today we are pleased to announce the names of the members of the National Planning Commission, who are tasked with producing a national development plan and development vision statement for the country.
MOKOTEDI Mpshe – the man who decided not to prosecute Jacob Zuma on corruption charges on the eve of the 2009 election – has been appointed acting judge in the North West.
How did he get the job? Well, it seems he was being rewarded for his highly questionable decision because it was none other than Jeff Radebe, the Minister of Justice, who is said to have lobbied for his appointment.
This stinks of cronyism and the Law Society of South Africa has spoken out against it.
The august body wants the appointment, which it says hints at government interference in the judiciary, suspended.
“The LSSA joins the general council of the bar and the JSC in expressing grave concern at the appointment of a former acting National Director of Public Prosecutions as an acting judge.
“The LSSA agrees with the above organisations that it is undesirable for a government official – while still retaining his civil service position as a public prosecutor – to be a member of the judiciary. This offends the concept of judicial independence,” it said.
MENZI Simelane, the new head of public prosecutions, has moved to limit the media’s ability to interview prosecutors, issuing a directive that all such contact should take place only with “prior authorisation”.
The first effect of this ill-considered directive will be to undermine the vital practice of court reporting.
Every day throughout the country prosecutors and defence advocates talk to the media about the cases they are involved in.
These discussions are essential for reporting. They concern the clarification of legal language used in court and the checking of facts by reporters.
This move will be very damaging for court reporting which is vital to making legal proceedings transparent, a basic requirement for democracy.
Simelane may have different motives for this clamp down. He is, after all, a man appointed on the strength of his conviction that prosecutors ought to account to political masters for their decisions.
In light of the slew of embarrassing prosecutions of political leaders, several of whom have returned to prominence under the reign of President Jacob Zuma, his motive could be to limit the damage done by such prosecutions.
Cynics might wonder aloud: Could it be that Simelane believes he can keep such matters out of the public domain while he and his political masters nip them in the bud?
Whatever his motives, the move to ban open contact between journalists and prosecutors will have serious negative effects on the transparency of the courts.
Government should be encouraging this relationship so that the public continues to be aware of the successes the criminal justice system is having in chasing down many serious criminals.