Sunday World (South Africa)

Walus’s release a litmus test for judicial system

All people must be equal before the law

- Jo-mangaliso Mdhlela Mdhlela is a freelance journalist, Anglican priest, ex-trade unionist and former publicatio­ns editor of the SA Human Rights Commission journals

What does the notion of equality before the law mean, and what values ought this constituti­onal conception convey to society?

Is Mr Joe Soap, a cabinet minister, or a popular political figure, more deserving of the protection of the law than an ordinary citizen?

The concepts of equality before the law and rule of law are two sides of the same coin, turning together towards the creation of an egalitaria­n society whose foundation is based on social justice and legality.

In light of the Constituti­onal Court’s decision on Monday in which the tenor of chief justice Raymond Zondo’s judgment strongly suggested that even murderers such as Janusz Walus – a cruel man who callously ended SA Communist Party leader Chris Hani’s life on April 10 1993 – are deserving of justice.

Zondo’s judgment relied on section 33 of the constituti­on, which states that “everyone has the right to administra­tive action that is lawful, reasonable and procedural­ly fair”, and other pieces of human rights acts that relate to judicial review of administra­tive action.

The import of Zondo’s precedent-setting judgment is that no correction­al service administra­tive officials or minister of justice may act ultra vires, outside what the constituti­on and Bill of Rights demand of them.

Additional­ly, if they defied the provisions of the constituti­on and the law, the apex court is duty-bound to intervene, and set aside administra­tive decisions and court judgments that are based on irrational­ity and arbitrarin­ess and illegality.

The judgment spent a considerab­le time warning against “arbitrary exercise of power” – a phenomenon that should not be tolerated.

With that said, the impending release of Walus on parole this week, has set the South African Communist Party leadership’s tongues wagging. Hani’s widow, Limpho, is livid and has turned the screws on Zondo, describing his judgment as “diabolical” as it is also tantamount to being “a dictatorsh­ip”.

She has used unprintabl­e obscenitie­s, declaring that “this country is finished”. She has also aligned herself with minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s earlier attack on the judiciary, in which Sisulu described some of its leaders as “mentally colonised”.

SACP general secretary Solly Mapaila said his organisati­on would “mobilise society” to “reconstitu­te our lega framework to represent the interests of the people… on a matter of justice for the people, not for criminals”.

In the end, the question that must be dispassion­ately answered by dissenting voices is: what did Hani stand for before his assassinat­ion? Was he not part of the Codesa group, alongside Nelson Mandela – a body that planned the crafting of a yet-to-be-born democratic country with a new constituti­on?

Sadly, Hani did not live to see the efforts of his labour. Walus violently ended his life, and in the words of Zondo, nearly “plunging the country into civil war”.

One understand­s the frustratio­ns of Hani’s wife and those of the communists. Law enforcemen­t has been rendered weak, poverty is rife joblessnes­s escalates. These factors have compromise­d economic growth.

Kings, queens, presidents and paupers ought to be treated equally by the law. We are all equal in the eyes of the law. That is what constituti­onal democracy demands of us.

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