Publication: The Witness Issued: Date: 2007-12-19 Reporter: Patrick Stillwell

Let Us Not Judge



The Witness




Patrick Stillwell

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Patrick Stillwell

In the past few weeks I have had a number of near acrimonious arguments with friends about the possible election of Jacob Zuma as president of the African National Congress, for I am one for whom his election will not be a catastrophe. In fact, I believe he is the politician most well-equipped to lead the country now. He has great popular appeal. He has charisma. He is humble. Although he is not highly educated, he is an intelligent man. He has experience in government. He has achieved international acclaim for his work as a mediator in Burundi. And may I mention the matter of Aids? Although he may have committed a personal sexual indiscretion, he acknowledges the urgency of the problem and has proposed policies far more realistic than those of the president.

Zuma is feared for two reasons. The first relates to his possible involvement in a corrupt relationship with Schabir Shaik and the arms deal. I have always wrestled with the logic of the fact that Shaik was found to be in a generally corrupt relationship with Zuma and yet the National Prosecuting Authority has stumbled, delayed and so far failed to bring a successful prosecution against Zuma even on the same evidence. Be that as it may, he has not yet been charged (let alone been found guilty) and the presumption of innocence must apply in his favour. But even if he has erred, I believe his error must be put in perspective. If he did receive a bribe, should we not forgive him? At this point in our national history is the forgiveness of Zuma not as much in the national interest as was the forgiveness of the perpetrators of apartheid atrocities at the time of our transition to democracy? And is the sin he committed so grave as to render him incapable of redemption?

Is it more grave than that of the lawyer who claims a fee for work not actually done? Or more grave than that of the doctor who requires a patient to undergo a procedure not actually necessary? Or that of the engineer who fails to disclose an interest in a company which supplies materials for his engineering project? Or of the public servant who falsifies subsistence and travelling claims? Or that of the university professor who inflates the marks of a favoured student? Or that of the salesperson who attempts to conceal the fine print in a contract? Or that of a seller who fails to disclose a hidden defect to the buyer of a car? Or that of any of us who has been given more change by a cashier than we were entitled to receive and failed to disclose it? No, we are all guilty. All of us.

Let us not be pious and judgmental. If Zuma erred, let us forgive him. Let us realise that his errors are as deserving of forgiveness as are our own. If he erred he will have learnt from the error and will be wiser for the experience.

The second reason for fearing Zuma is his involvement in a sexual encounter with a young woman. At the outset, let us get the matter of rape out the way. He was acquitted of rape mainly as a result of the complainant having conceded under cross-examination that she consented to the sex. The criticism of him is mainly confined to the fact that he knew she was HIV-positive. Yes, it is irresponsible for anyone to have unprotected sex with an HIV-positive person. However, I believe that sex is a very intimate, personal matter and that none of us can claim the right to know about the sex lives of others even politicians unless the sexual activity infringes the rights of others. Indeed, the Bill of Rights in the Constitution guarantees that. But sexual desire is a powerful force. It sometimes drives people to do things they would not normally, or even would not like to do. But we must ask whether those who have yielded to sexual indiscretion are vile, foul and altogether without goodness or virtue. I believe not. Bill Clinton was a public figure whose sexual encounter with another person became the object of disgusting voyeuristic revelry. Yet he was (and continues to be) a good man who continues to make a massive contribution to the fight against global poverty.

Again, I ask who is so perfect as not to have committed a sexual indiscretion or entertained an improper sexual thought? Is there a person alive who is so perfect in his or her personal life as to be completely free of blame? And if there is, would such a unique person be capable of ruling a nation of stumblers? None of us are so perfect as to set us apart and make us the perfect lawyer, doctor, engineer, salesperson, citizen or president.

I believe Zuma, in spite of (indeed perhaps because of) his frailty and especially because of his humanity will be a good president.

* Patrick Stillwell is a Pietermaritzburg attorney.

With acknowledgements to Patrick Stillwell and The Witness.


The Editor
The Witness


I read the article "Let us not judge" by Patrick Stillwell published in The Witness on 19 December 2007 with a high level of amazement and a certain level of revulsion.

The content of this article is almost completely illogical nonsense.

Just why should anyone be simply forgiven while another party implicated in the binary crime of corruption languishes in the penitentiary for 15 years?

The only cogent answer would be that this other party should also be just forgiven.

But then we would clearly be onto the classic slippery slope - the one leading toward anarchy.

Notwithstanding, there does exist in this country something called a plea arrangement, but the accused party must first acknowledge guilt and responsibility before getting a better deal than the stipulated sanction.

In this case there is no acceptance of any culpability whatsoever, even in the face of clear and substantial prima facie evidence involving literally hundreds of instances of corruption.

Indeed it is clear from the evidence accepted in the High Court that considerable measures were taken after the fact in an unlawful attempt by the subject's then attorney to conceal the original crime.

The latest indications are that the alleged criminality is no mere once-off grasp at a financial straw, but a multiple and serial pattern of organised crime in conjunction with a foreign partner that amounts to racketeering.

In my view holding equivalent the crimes of grand corruption and racketeering with the quoted misdemeanors, cannot be the hallmark of a perfect lawyer.

Indeed, the pure corruption for receiving payment for a deed or omission by an elected public representative to unlawfully advance the private interests of other parties is one thing, but in this case this misconduct went as far as undermining the State investigation into prior criminality by these same other parties and on a far vaster scale. The seriousness of this is clearly in a different league and actually amounts to a disloyalty to and an undermining of the State. Where this is done on behalf of foreign interests it assumes an even more profound dimension.

Yet thus far the only responses have been desperate technical-legal measures resulting in the absorption of huge amounts of public finances in both legal defence and prosecution, as well as substantial amounts of the time, effort and resources of the local prosecuting authority.

Yet, it is not too late for a plea arrangement. There are much bigger fish out there that need netting, especially the foreign serial corrupters of third world politicians and acquisition decision-makers, including those with robust libidos and frail finances.

An excellent start for redemption would be full political and executive support for the local prosecuting authority's case against the foreign member of the beneficial triumvirate, full local support of the foreign investigating authorities' investigations into corruption in the Arms Deal, as well as completely reopening the local investigation into the Arms Deal by starting off with a proper and independent judicial commission of enquiry.

I have never heard of a simple asymmetrical forgiveness of serious criminal offences - it is quite absurd.

Even regarding the forgiveness in the national interest of perpetrators of apartheid-era crimes and sins required prior full disclosure.

In any case the subject is on record as wanting his day in court, presumably so that he can clear his name, or possibly register his plea arrangement, or to make full disclosure. Both he and The People deserve nothing less.

But other than that, I'm afraid that this article is nothing more than opportunistic sycophancy now that the implications and possibilities of Limpopo loom.

Richard Young
Imperfect Engineer