Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wild talk and the rule of law

As is well known, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema has said some remarkable things. For example, to a Youth Day public rally, "We are prepared to die for Zuma. We are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma."(quoted in Rapule Tabane, "Top brass tackles ANC Youth League," Mail & Guardian Online, Aug 29 2008). ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe reportedly called judges "counter-revolutionary" (though he denied this," and was quoted as saying, "He [Zuma] is the president of the ANC [....] You hit the head, you kill the snake, When there is that attack on him, it is a concerted attack on the head of the ANC. Everybody says it is an innocent attack on him. We will know that it is an attack on the ANC." ("ANC shrugs off Mantashe's stance on judiciary," Mail & Guardian Online, Jul 11 2008).

The obvious question is how much rhetoric of this sort can come from powerful or prominent leaders without undermining the rule of law in South Africa. That question is already somewhat out of date, since the crisis over legal challenges to Jacob Zuma's political prospects is over. Moreover, early indications in Zuma's presidency suggest that he does not want to prolong the constitutional tension with the judicial branch (see "Parliament names JSC members," Mail & Guardian Online, May 26 2009) -- and that's very much to be welcomed. But the question now posed is whether the effects of such rhetoric will dissipate over time, or whether the seeds sowed by these words continue to grow. No one really knows, and surely the answer isn't already fixed; it depends, instead, on what the next words spoken are, and the next.

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