Justice minister defends judiciary and Zondo commission against 'spurious attacks'

17 February 2021 - 15:58
By thabo mokone AND Thabo Mokone
Justice and constitutional development minister Ronald Lamola speaks during the Sona debate on Wednesday.
Image: GCIS Justice and constitutional development minister Ronald Lamola speaks during the Sona debate on Wednesday.

Justice and constitutional development minister Ronald Lamola has warned of launching “spurious attacks” against the judiciary, saying to do so without presenting facts undermined public confidence in the country's judges.

Opening the second day of the debate on the state of the nation address (Sona), Lamola used his speech to defend the judiciary, saying it was the “cornerstone of our constitutional democracy”.

“Attacks, allegations and conspiracies against the judiciary can erode the confidence of society in the judiciary if not followed up with facts and conclusive investigations. We must remind the Confessor-in-Chief [EFF leader Julius Malema] that public institutions do not fall flat because of conspiracy theories hatched in the forest,” said Lamola.

Lamola's defence of the judiciary comes as the country's judges, especially the Constitutional Court, have come under attack by supporters of former president Jacob Zuma and some opposition parties such as the EFF.

Speaking during the Sona debate on Tuesday, Malema said that judges were not special and some sections of society would “rise against them” if they abused their powers.

Supporters of Zuma, such as the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), have also lashed out at the Zondo commission of inquiry after it said it would ask the ConCourt to order the former president's arrest.

This after Zuma on Monday deliberately failed to appear before the commission probing state capture, despite a ConCourt ruling ordering him to do so.

Zuma said he would not be appearing before the commission headed by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo because it was biased against him.

Zuma also argued that his appearance before Zondo was premature because the Constitutional Court was yet to rule on his review application for Zondo's recusal, adding he did not fear going to jail in relation to this matter.

But his conduct and those of his supporters has been roundly criticised by observers as a slap in the face to the rule of law, a view shared by several prominent members of the ANC and some of its formations.

While he did not mention Zuma or his supporters by name, Lamola said “the rule of law is sacrosanct”.

“The constitution and the rule of law are sacrosanct components of our democracy and people in the country must respect these principles. To allow anything else will lead to anarchy and open the floodgates easily to a counter-revolution.

“House chair, in the constitution, we proclaim that all individuals, all organisations within SA, whether public or private, are bound by and are entitled to the benefit of laws that are prospectively promulgated and publicly administered in a court of law,” he said.

Lamola lauded those who have so far co-operated with the Zondo commission.

“The Zondo commission shows us that a democracy is ultimately held together by citizens and civil servants alike, who commit to the rule of law in their daily lives. There are some in our ranks who refuse to let anarchy and the floodgates of counter-revolution prevail.

There are some in our ranks who refuse to let anarchy prevail.

“We applaud all South Africans who have thus far co-operated with the work of the commission. The commission is very important for our constitutional democracy, it will help us renew our nation, find the moral compass and build a society free of corruption.”

Lamola insisted that President Cyril Ramaphosa's administration was winning the fight against crime and corruption, especially since the establishment of the “fusion centre”, where multiple law enforcement agencies shared information and legal strategies.

Since its inception, Lamola said, the fusion centre has handled 231 cases or incidents related to Covid-19. This included:

  • 30 cases were closed after investigation and 31 accused people are appearing in 14 criminal cases in courts across the country;
  • R145.6m in 72 bank accounts have been blocked by the Financial Intelligence Centre;
  • R119m has been preserved by the Asset Forfeiture Unit through the Prevention of Organisation Crime Act;
  • the Special Investigating Unit has enrolled cases in the Special Tribunal to the value of R365m and has to date saved R124m involving supply chain irregularities;
  • the SA Revenue Service recovered R165m in taxes using the revenue services empowering legislation; and
  • more than 12 referrals were sent to various departments for disciplinary action for employees involved in irregularities.

“In total, R718.6m has been recovered by the fusion centre back into the fiscus,” Lamola said.