The Justice System

The Constitution requires the independence of the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) but this is blatantly disregarded as the NPA is subordinated to the executive and acts to protect the President and his allies. The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) is similarly used to secure Zuma’s hold on power within the party and the tripartite alliance. It is also deployed as a military instrument against popular politics.This signals that the state is once again at war with its own people in continuity with the apartheid state. This is linked to the militarisation of the police noted above. At the same time, political responsibility is displaced by establishing commissions (again as under apartheid), not to reveal any truth but to de-politicise the citizenry and smother militancy.

Poor people generally experience the ‘justice’ system as an instrument of injustice. The court bias for the rich was significant in the formation of the Rural Network (RN) and this remains a factor that shapes the context in both rural and urban areas. The costs of ‘access to justice’ to defend or assert rights are notoriously high while poor people who are accused cannot afford proper defence and judgements against them are usually peremptory. The police also use arbitrary arrests as a tactic to threaten and disrupt people’s movements. They have laid charges against as many as 200 people at a time only to withdraw them as the matter gets to court several months later. The authorities meanwhile refuse to deal with the issues raised by the movements.

Nonetheless, the movements have also used the justice system to try and defend rights and principles. This indicates the need to keep options open and strike a balance between:
a. a critical scepticism of the easy temptation to hand political power and determination to lawyers and courts, and
b. recognising that some struggles can and do use courts as theatres of genuine politics and mobilisation, and that lawyers’ fees and bail money are sometimes essential in the real world of grassroots struggle.

Sustained resistance has produced some beacons of hope. In the case of Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), justice was realised in April 2013 when the Minister of Police was ordered to pay R165 000 to three people who the police assaulted in September 2006. The movement sees this as a significant milestone as it restores the dignity of poor people.

In rural areas, people have also seen justice being done in some instances. The Mpanza and Shange families in eMasangweni were happy to see the killers of their sons being sentenced in December 2010. Their sons were murdered in 2006. The families had to struggle to get public prosecutors to prosecute and endured 25 adjournments over the four years. In Tweedie, 89 years old Mrs Zondi (Gogo) won her land back in December 2012 after an 11 year long legal battle waged against the state and a neighbouring commercial farmer. The court ruled that she is the owner of the land and that government should support her to produce on the land.

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