ACTING Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has come under criticism for daring to call a press conference to lash out at Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu after she penned an opinion deemed by some as an attack on the judiciary.
On Wednesday, Zondo described the article, which appeared on Africa News Global and IOL titled “Hi Mzansi, have we seen justice?” last week, as not being based in facts but only insults.
But National Association of Democratic Lawyers president Mvuzo Notyesi said his immediate reaction to Sisulu’s article was that it was based on political rhetoric.
Notyesi said some of the issues arising from it raised some debate which in the ordinary course of events would be engaged in a political platform.
“I did not see it as an attack to the Constitution, per se, but it expressed views about how far the country has gone,” he said.
Notyesi also said Zondo’s press conference was not the best way to respond to the article.
“At the minimal level one would have expected him to write because the minister is a member of the executive and the judiciary and arm of government.
“Each of the arms of government should not overreact on criticisms that are reflective of some exercise of freedom of speech,” he said, adding that Sisulu may have been exercising her rights as a politician.
“The press conference was not really called for. The judiciary is not above criticism just like other arms of government,” Notyesi said.
Democracy in Action chairperson Thabo Mtsweni echoed Notyesi saying Zondo should not have called the press briefing.
“Whether you are a MP or a member of the executive, you enjoy the same freedom of speech.
“Minister Sisulu was well within her rights as an individual in this country to talk about her own views on the judiciary because the judiciary itself is not above reproach when it comes to matters of criticism,” Mtsweni said.
He also said Zondo was not in any position to call a press briefing on what Sisulu had said.
“Many times people have said things about the judiciary, but we have never seen the judiciary come out to respond.
“We cannot have a judicial system that responds to every attack,” Mtsweni said.
The EFF said Zondo seemed to have taken into a political debate introduced by someone who practises political oversight and inadvertently made the judiciary a participant in an election battle within the ANC.
“It was not Zondo’s place to respond to the minister because she is far better placed to assess the social and political conditions in this country as someone tasked with that responsibility.
“She has therefore, in her political assessment, factored in the shortcomings of the judiciary in economic, social and political change in the country,” EFF national spokesperson Vuyani Pambo.
“The response by Zondo is therefore not only a waste of our collective time, it is misguided, misplaced and only serves to prejudice Minister Sisulu and those who hold public place in our society, who may hold similar views as her,” Pambo said.
Zondo’s press conference came as there was opposition to Sisulu’s article in some quarters with some even calling for her head.
DA leader John Steenhuisen said President Cyril Ramaphosa should instruct Sisulu to retract and issue a public apology for undermining the judiciary and casting aspersions on its integrity in her opinion piece.
Steenhuisen also said his party would call on Sisulu to appear before Parliament’s ethics committee to explain how as an MP reconciled her attack on the Judiciary with the parliamentary code of conduct.
Political analyst Professor Andre Duvenhage said the content of the Sisulu’s opinion piece was very disturbing, saying it was aimed at stealing the thunder from Ramaphosa ahead of his ANC January 8 statement in Polokwane on Saturday.
“It was an opposing view to that of Ramaphosa. Sisulu was associating herself with the likes of former president Jacob Zuma, Ace Magashule.
“It is the group opposing Ramaphosa for a second term for the ANC presidency. She is not on her own.
“It was a well-calculated, planned move to make such an opinion ahead of the January 8 statement,“ Duvenhage said.
Meanwhile, several civil society organisations also weighed in on the matter.
In the joint statement, they said Sisulu launched an extraordinary attack on South Africa’s justice system, its constitution and the judiciary.
“Although authored in her personal capacity, Ms Sisulu’s public utterances, made as a member of the executive and as a high-ranking member of the African National Congress, must be repudiated in the strongest terms.
“Her demand for an overhaul of the judiciary represents a dangerous and regressive call to render it responsive to the whims of the political elite.
“The very foundation of our constitutional democracy rests on the rule of law, which in turn depends for its health and tenacity on a fiercely independent and impartial judiciary at all levels,” the organisations said.
The organisations include the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Corruption Watch, Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, Defend our Democracy Campaign, Freedom Under Law, Helen Suzman Foundation and Judges Matter.