Rule of law? What rule of law? Julius Malema’s never-ending soaring above SA law continues
As yet another tussle involving the law and EFF leader Julius Malema plays out in court, he is, as always, deliberate in his determination to be above the law.
Julius Malema has been in court several times and acquitted of various criminal charges. Those who support the independence of the judiciary can hardly complain when judges find, according to the law, that he is not guilty. But, in an age when there is a video camera in every pocket, the examples of him and other EFF leaders committing acts of violence and being acquitted have important consequences.
Later this week, Malema and his co-accused Adriaan Snyman are due to ask the East London magistrate in his firearm discharge case to drop the charges against them. They will argue that the prosecution has not brought a case they need to answer.
The charge in question is the illegal discharge of a firearm. It relates to a video which emerged of Malema appearing to fire a gun into the air during an EFF rally in East London five years ago.
Despite this apparent video evidence, it is entirely possible that Malema’s lawyers will succeed in their application.
First, there appear to be problems with the chain of evidence, as the prosecution has not been able to trace the person who filmed the original video.
Second, Malema’s own VIP protection officers (who were presumably on the scene at the time) say they have no memory of him firing this gun.
And it appears the security company which provided the firearm in question has records indicating that it was not in East London on that day, but in fact in Johannesburg.
This means that despite the apparent video evidence, viewed by many people, Malema may well be found not guilty.
This follows a familiar theme.
At the funeral of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Malema and former EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi were filmed slapping a white police officer.
They were found not guilty of assault.
Long before that, EFF deputy leader Floyd Shivambu was filmed pushing a journalist up against a wall using physical force in what many people believe was an assault.
He was cleared of legal wrongdoing.
While there have been other incidents in which EFF leaders have been accused of violence, the striking point in these particular cases is that there is video evidence. And yet they have been acquitted (or could be in the East London case).
This apparent trend raises interesting points.
First, it suggests that despite Malema’s repeated claims that the judiciary is biased against him, or is the tool of Cyril Ramaphosa or “White Monopoly Capital”, this is clearly not the case.
It should make it harder for him to continue to attack judges in this way.
It also provides a test for those who oppose Malema and support the rule of law. If they believe that judges are independent and that politicians should not attack the judiciary, they must accept the findings in these cases, no matter how puzzling they may appear, and would be well-advised not to complain about them publicly.
At the same time though, there are other consequences.
It is hard to imagine an ordinary citizen being filmed slapping a police officer, pushing a journalist into a wall or firing a gun into the air, and getting away with it.
Malema’s opponents can understandably view the findings of these court cases as revealing that he is above the law — no matter what he does, he gets away with it.
The fact that he is the only political leader who is not a current or former member of the executive to have VIP protection provided by the state reinforces the perception that he is getting special treatment.
Malema and fellow EFF leaders may want to continue down this path — if they can get away with all of the above, why stop now?
But there is another, more damaging consequence.
In a country in which the rule of law has never been fully accepted by everyone (the rule of apartheid law was of course used as an instrument of oppression, as the fire at the former Johannesburg pass office reminds us), these findings will provoke even less trust in the law and less interest in adhering to it.
After all, if Malema can get away with it, why can’t I?
And what would have happened if some of these cases had been reversed? If a white police officer had physically handled Malema or Ndlozi, how would they have responded?
If a member of AfriForum was filmed shooting a firearm into the air, would the EFF have demanded they be held legally accountable?
This feeds into another disturbing trend, where the extremes of our society seek to dominate the political conversation.
Normally, the rule of law would be used to provide some level of control over this. But if that rule is no longer accepted, unrestrained behaviour follows, with the weakening of the political centre, which is where the ANC and the DA find themselves.
There will be more cases to come.
The NSPCA has lodged another case against Malema, alleging he is guilty of animal cruelty for stabbing a cow several times in an attempt to slaughter it. This too was caught on video. He would have known that he was being filmed and that it could lead the NSPCA into this action.
This will allow him to claim that he is being prosecuted simply for following the traditions of most people of this country, and that the NSPCA is controlled by white people.
And again, he may be able to use the courts for political grandstanding, as he has done since at least 2011, during his first hate-speech trial.
So far, for more than a decade, this deliberate strategy has worked for him.
He is likely to repeat it and/or escalate it, no matter what the cost to the perception of the rule of law, South Africa’s democracy and its people. The main domain Julius Malema will continue to serve is himself and himself alone. DM