Justice Minister Ronald Lamola on Wednesday launched an impassioned defence of the principle of equality before the law, seemingly in reply to the sustained attack on judges by former president Jacob Zuma as he seeks to justify defying a Constitutional Court order.
“Justice must prevail no matter who is involved,” the minister said during the debate on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address (Sona). “We are a democratic country and we will not compromise the gains thus far.”
Lamola recalled that equal application of the law, regardless of race or creed, was one of the principles the governing party fought for from its founding days as a liberation movement.
“The rule of law has always been the language of resistance of the African National Congress,” he said.
The adoption of the constitution 25 years ago enshrined that vision in a supreme law all were obliged to respect.
“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.”
Lamola said the inquiry into state capture has laid bare the danger of officials who defected from this belief and he thanked those who have co-operated with it to help the country correct course.
“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,” he said.
“There are some in our ranks who refuse to let anarchy and the flood-gates of
counter-revolution prevail. 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.”
Zuma on Monday, for the third time in as many months, defied a summons to testify at the commission, this time despite a Constitutional Court order handed down in late January to compel him to do so.
After Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said he would ask the court to rule Zuma to be in contempt and impose a prison sentence, the former president responded with a 12-page statement in which he accused the apex court, among others, of stripping him of his rights and pursuing a political vendetta.
“There are some concerning tendencies slowly manifesting in the judicial system that we should all fear,” Zuma said, insisting that there were “a few in the judiciary that have long left their constitutional station to pursue political battles”.
He added: “I have accepted that Deputy Chief Justice Zondo and due process and the law are estranged.”
Senior ANC leaders are trying to convince Zuma to reconsider, at the same time that the party is facing resistance from officials charged with corruption to heed orders to stand down from their posts, chief among them secretary general Ace Magashule.
He is due to appear in court on Friday, when the National Prosecuting Authority will add more charges to his indictment relating to the asbestos audit scandal in the Free State while he served as premier of the province.