Ramaphosa sends warning over attack against the constitution

 ·22 Feb 2021

President Cyril Ramaphosa has raised concerns around individuals who show ‘disdain’ for South Africa’s constitution and its courts.

The president said in his weekly letter to the public on Monday (22 February), that these individuals undermine the country’s legal system and cause damage to the rule of law.

“Of particular concern are recent utterances directed at the judiciary, in which some judges are accused, without any evidence, of pursuing interests other than the cause of justice.

“Judges have been accused of political agendas and some have even been accused of accepting bribes,” he said.

The president said that such claims are disturbing. “Firstly, if such claims were true, it would mean that there are some within the judiciary who are failing to uphold the values and principles with which they have been entrusted.”

Ramaphosa said that the constitution makes provision for such a possibility. The National Assembly is empowered to remove judges who are found by the Judicial Service Commission to be guilty of gross misconduct, he said.

“The Judicial Service Commission is a carefully constituted body, which includes representatives from the judiciary but also the legal profession, academia and Parliament.

“There are clear processes established in law to deal with allegations of misconduct against members of the judiciary.”

Ramaphosa said that anyone who has evidence of any wrongdoing by any judge should make use of the avenues provided in our constitution and in our law to ensure that appropriate action is taken.

Undermining the courts 

The president added that claims made against the judiciary are disturbing for another reason.

“Without the presentation of evidence to support these claims, and unless referred to the relevant authorities, all that such allegations do is to undermine the judiciary and the important function that it performs in our democracy.

“Of course, South Africa is a free country, with a constitution that guarantees freedom of expression and opinion. However, when some in positions of responsibility choose to use those freedoms to undermine our constitutional order, they should be reminded of the possible consequences of their utterances.

“One of these possible consequences is the erosion of trust in the judiciary and our constitutional order.”

Ramaphosa said that in all instances Section 165(3) of the constitution needs to be followed, which states that: “No person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of the courts.”

He said that attacks on the judiciary have the effect of interfering with the courts and weakening the rule of law.

“We have a responsibility to the generations of our forebears, many of whom gave their lives so that we may have a democratic constitution.

“We have a responsibility to the millions of South Africans who look to the constitution for protection and relief.

“And we have a responsibility to future generations who will look to this constitution as the foundation of a stable, peaceful and just nation.”

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