Richard Chemaly
4 minute read
23 Apr 2021
10:36 am

Should allegations be enough to force someone to step down?

Richard Chemaly

The idea that leaders would step aside to allow for their innocence to be proven only works if their moral compasses weren't so completely broken.

Supporters of the ANC's secretary-general Ace Magashule carry a huge cardboard cut-out of him when he appeared in the dock for his first court appearance on corruption charges in Bloemfontein. Picture: EPA-EFE/Conrad Bornman


The new philosophical battle lines have been drawn and we need to ask just how disingenuous they are.

It’s not just the ANC. It’s the judiciary. It’s society. It’s everywhere. If the right people don’t like you, you can basically expelled on a whiff and a whim, or so it would seem.

This is the effect the erosion of trust in the judiciary initially had and, despite the warnings, that’s filtered out beyond our legal system. When we became so reliant on the legal system to protect us from sexual abuse, domestic violence and the like, as a community we had no ability to introspect and instead just outsourced the blame to an agency incapable of stopping these things.

I mean, let’s be honest, there’s never really been much that the cops and courts could do to prevent crimes committed in the privacy of a home. At best they can mostly act after the fact once the damage is done.

So what did we do in response? We started believing victims more and more easily. Not only that, but the systems we had in place to determine the facts of the accusations, were placed in a secondary priority.

Where that has led us to today is that in some criminal matters, an accusation can effectively give you a social stigma worse than a guilty verdict, but even that’s inconsistent because there are hundreds of accusations against politicians collectively and they still keep power.

Why then this inconsistent application of the principle?

Probably because for most people they’ve hardly seen the law work, so they’re focused on the outcomes they want and not the way of getting there.

This happened before. Remember when we all ran to court begging the top justices to declare that the Public Protector’s decisions and findings were legally binding? Remember how happy we were when Thuli Madonsela could make binding findings? See how unhappy we are now that Busi Mkhwebane is making those findings?

The appreciation of the system is so diluted we even have influential people citing newspaper articles as a reason for Cyril Ramaphosa to step down in terms of the ANC policy, even though there have been no related charges.

The distinction doesn’t seem to matter as long as you can play the rhetoric in your favour. From Qualification-Gate to RET, if the people you’re courting don’t care about the nuances, you can do what you like.

This is why it’s vital to understand the difference between being accused and being charged. It’s why one needs to understand the difference between being suspected and being found liable.

People can think I’m a fraud, but a certain threshold should be set between where those thoughts can, and should, turn to actions.

The thinking behind the stepping down on a charge is because charges, we hope, aren’t simply brought frivolously. Iif they are, those who bring the charges will face some sort of retribution. It’s supposed to be the gateway that keeps the opportunistic charges out and goes ahead with the ones that are winnable.

But when your NPA is struggling to keep its head above water, it might not exactly be an effective gateway.

But much like the initial things that lead us here, it’s impossible to expect the legal system to clean up our politics.

At best, our legal system can offer disincentives to be dirty in politics. If it didn’t take years to fight a case that will eventually be settled if it goes any distance, it may lead to fewer politicians being bad. It may even incentivise some leaders convinced of their innocence to step aside for a month or two to vindicate themselves if they knew they wouldn’t be out of work for several years.

But alas no. We can’t expect that, it would seem, even if the system was more efficient. Our leadership’s moral brokenness is far too self-suiting for any whim of morality to apply.

How else could a judge who has a dark cloud over his head, placed there by the very system he’s sworn to protect, sleep well, making decisions in the system, after being found to be an shame to the system?