President Jacob Zuma yesterday launched a scathing attack on the South African judicial system, telling traditional leaders not to trust the courts of law.
Zuma was responding to challenges raised by dozens of traditional leaders from different provinces at the City of Tshwane Council Chambers.
His apparent hostility toward the judiciary came less than two weeks after the Constitutional Court found against him in the Nkandla security upgrades matter.
He subsequently attributed his error in dismissing the remedial actions by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to poor advice from his legal team.
“I think we can resolve these matters in an African way, not through the law,” said Zuma.
“You can’t stand in court and defend yourselves. You need a lawyer. The law goes to the other side.
“The judges convict you, even if you tell the truth.”
The traditional leaders’ concerns included “the inaccessibility of pension and medical aid benefits”, a lack of land, houses and funding, little pay, poverty, inequalities and crime.
Being excluded from decision-making processes on policies and issues of national interest also troubled the leaders.
Chief Mathibela Mokoena from the Mpumalanga House of Traditional Leaders appealed to Zuma.
He wanted the president to ensure those who “hated” that the traditional leaders were not deployed to government.
He said Cabinet ministers who looked down on traditional leaders stayed on traditional leaders’ lands even when no longer serving in government.
“There are those who ask stupid questions about our roles,” said Mokoena.
“Please, identify them, Mr president. Don’t deploy them to the government.
“As a minister, don’t forget that you are here because of your term. When your term expires, you will come back to us.”
Mokoena asked Zuma if the land would go back to its rightful beneficiaries if the government restored it.
He said Zuma previously made a determination on pension benefits for traditional leaders.
But said no one had received the benefits thereafter.
Zuma blamed the traditional leaders’ problems on apartheid and colonialism, saying the two systems created extremely difficult situations.
He said the question of nation-building was the responsibility of all South Africans.
“You can’t leave it all to government,” said Zuma.
“We need to identify issues that come up. We need to, as what we can do, stop crime and restore dignity to ourselves.”