Voices

Why Malema and the mindless social media cabal should not question the quality of judges

2019-10-01 01:10

There is nothing to suggest that any of the current critics have the knowledge, competence or integrity to impugn the custodians of our jurisprudence

One of the great things about social media today is that it has levelled the conversation field.

The era of the mainstream media using its finite resources to choose what is news and what can be left out of the print is long gone.

The days of exclusive groupings in exclusive enclaves producing information for the rest of us are over.

Social media has become the main producer of content and has become a more preferable and more reliable rating platform for most things, from political parties to books and even commercials.

Social media has given people their power back.

Today, being informed is no longer a criterion for engaging in conversations, especially because people are hiding behind handles and faceless accounts

Despite this new-found people’s power, there is a great downside to social media.

While in real-life gatherings – whether it’s a meeting at a workplace or a discussion at home, where it is usually those who feel informed enough who make a meaningful contribution to discussions and conversation – social media’s wide accessibility, looseness of conversations and sense of anonymity mean there is no pressure on most people to first inform themselves before participating in a discussion.

In the real world, unlike on social media, those who don’t know fear the judgement of peers or the shame of ignorance enough to prefer the listen-and-learn option than blind engagement.

Today, being informed is no longer a criterion for engaging in conversations, especially because people are hiding behind handles and faceless accounts.

This leads to a ridiculous state of deliberation, where jumping on a trend and riding a wave is all that matters.

Clout, retweets and likes (mostly dislikes) are all that matter and this requires views on the extreme margins for shock value.

With an avalanche of idiotic messages, one does not lose anything by being absent on social media, but keeps one’s peace of mind

The result is that, today, we have never had so many people who know so little but say so much.

Many thinking people have rightfully admitted that society, because of social media, is experiencing an “invasion of idiots”.

It’s about being loud, extreme, loose and reckless, all in search of standing out in a saturated conversation field.

Some life coaches even advise people not to be on social media.

With an avalanche of idiotic messages, one does not lose anything by being absent on social media, but keeps one’s peace of mind.

Of course, there are wonderful moments on social media, few and far between though they may be, that make one occasionally feel great about it.

It’s usually about what is being done rather than what is being said, like when Twitter’s economies of scale raise quick money to save a family from starvation.

The recent conversation that has brought Twitter back to its place of disrepute, driven by the Twitter darling of idiocy and ridiculousness, the EFF, has been about the credibility and integrity of court judges.

In the recent past, especially after the Jacob Zuma presidency, the EFF has been losing court cases back-to-back, along with their political capital among sane people who once gave them a chance.

This has been a bruising time for the EFF that, during the Zuma years, won court case after court case.

Instead of admitting that their cases today are much weaker than when they took on Zuma, instead of admitting that they have today effectively replaced Zuma as constitutional delinquents fighting hopeless legal battles, their default position has been to question the competence and independence of the same judges who used to find in their favour.

Led by Julius Malema and his cronies, who have found refuge in the mindless social media cabal, the members of which are always ready to be turned into media henchmen, a daily assault has been directed at the judges, including the creation of a false list of all the judges who have found against the EFF in court being recipients of bribes from those the judges have found for.

Judges are the custodians of our jurisprudence and their sanctity must at all times be preserved

The idea is to make the last line of defence in this country, the judiciary, seem to have already collapsed, now targeting Malema and his minions, or the Public Protector in this case, a sorry state of the judiciary in their view whose intention is to serve Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and the president’s political interests, if not in order to serve those who butter their bread.

This line of thinking, of course, defies logic because there is no political threat posed by the EFF, even if they won all their court cases.

Riding the coat-tails of the Public Protector has been another attempt at staying in the anti-ANC news cycle for relevance.

Read: Cases against Malema are starting to pile up

Judges are the custodians of our jurisprudence and their sanctity must at all times be preserved.

It’s important to appreciate just how individuals become judges and why the mindless social media cabal should never dare to jump on the bandwagon of questioning the quality of judges, whatever vanity this might bring to their juvenile politicians.

In 2003, Thabo Mbeki addressed a symposium convened by then chief justice Arthur Chaskalson, on the transformation of the judiciary.

Mbeki took the opportunity to cite commentary by Alexander Hamilton (1755/57 to 1804), one of the prominent legal scholars and drafters of the Constitution of the US.

“There can be but few men in society,” Hamilton said, “who will have sufficient skill in the laws to qualify them for the station of judges. And making the proper deductions for the ordinary depravity of human nature, the number must be still smaller, of those who unite the requisite integrity with the requisite knowledge ... To avoid an arbitrary discretion in the courts, it is indispensable that they should be bound down by strict rules and precedents ... [that] must demand long and laborious study, to acquire a competent knowledge of them.”

A judge who does not have an opinion on matters is not an impartial judge, they are an ignorant judge

It is not only this long and laborious study that sets judges apart. Many law experts have that knowledge and judicial competence.

As Hamilton says, the number of people who can be judges must be small because that requisite knowledge must be matched, in equal measure if not more so, by the requisite integrity.

There is nothing to suggest that any of the current critics have either the knowledge, competence or requisite integrity to impugn our judges.

Judge Dikgang Moseneke, a fine jurist by any measure, describes the work of a judge this way: “A judge must first absorb and rehash facts. Then he or she must identify the law that regulates the dispute embedded in the facts, she must then apply the law to the facts, she may have to resort to judicial precedent for guidance on a proper understanding of the law or its application on the facts. At that point, she has to weigh in on the one side or the other of the dispute and, lastly, make a just order of court. Court judgments tend to be cast in that predictable mould.”

It is true that judges have opinions; they are, after all, citizens of this country too.

A judge who does not have an opinion on matters is not an impartial judge, they are an ignorant judge.

Judges have a unique skill in law that makes them judges in the first place.

Then, as Hamilton says, by that very fact, they have the requisite integrity and knowledge to sit on the Bench.

This means judges’ opinions, proof that judges are well informed, are always subjected to their unique and sufficient skills and knowledge in law and, most importantly, their integrity.

The judiciary, of course, is part of the three arms of the state, with other branches wielding much greater force and having the potential to remove judges when they so wish or intimidate them one way or the other.

How does the Constitution insulate judges from this?

Hamilton acknowledged this and said the judiciary “is in continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed or influenced by its coordinate branches,” and “nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence as permanency in office”.

Judges have nothing to fear, their jobs are guaranteed, they generally want for nothing. They have no other desire but to discharge their work with the necessary judicial prudence and affirmation by the country’s supreme law book, the Constitution.

Yonela Diko is a media strategist and political commentator

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March 29 2020