Publication: Sunday Independent Issued: Date: 2003-09-21 Reporter:

Investigation Has Strengthened Not Weakened Democracy



Sunday Independent

Date 2003-09-21

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Our democracy has gone through many trials and tribulations in the first decade.

It has passed all the tests, which is another reason for us to celebrate.

One of these tests is the investigation of the deputy president by the national directorate of public prosecutions.

This test has indicated the extent to which our democracy has deepened, and how, contrary to the view of the so-called opinion-makers who say the investigation has weakened democracy, it has actually proven how strong and mature our democracy has become.

It is only a mature democracy that the deputy president of the country would be investigated without any interference or attempt to stop the investigation by government or the deputy president himself.

In some established democracies, high office is protected and incumbents are granted immunity. In our country we are all equal before the law.

We have never questioned these principles; we respect them and abide by them.

The deputy president has not interfered with the investigation, and has taken appropriate steps within the law and his rights to seek redress regarding the outcome of the investigation.

The investigation has been a test for the institution as well.

It has tested the maturity of state organs responsible for investigations and the potential and capacity for the abuse of power by individuals in these institutions.

It has also been a critical test for the media, whose freedom we fought for, and which is enshrined in clause 16 in the constitution of our country.

The media is supposed to be an independent watchdog, which does not and should not take sides in any conflict, but seek to provide the public with information to allow them to make up their own minds.

A professional media is supposed to remain true to the ethics of objectivity, fairness and balance and be open to all sides of the story.

The investigation has left many questions as to whether the media remained true to these noble ethics, or whether it took a firm position to vigorously support one party to the full, to further mutual agendas.

The investigation has also been a test for political parties, the extent to which they are prepared to assist the democratic process constructively or whether they choose to become "sound-bite" specialists, swallowing any lead that they are given, to get media mileage.

The important outcome of this whole debacle is that our democracy has so far not been shaken by it.

It has withstood the challenges because it is above individuals. Our democracy is rooted on very strong foundations.

This is what opinion-makers should be emphasising.

The South African government should also be congratulated for adhering to democratic principles and for not being tempted to abuse its power.

We are very proud to have inherited a priceless legacy from the founding fathers and mothers of this new nation.

Let us treasure it and continue to build a prosperous nation on the foundation of April 27 1994.

This is an edited version of Deputy President Jacob Zuma's address to the national council of provinces on Friday

With acknowledgement to The Sunday Independent.