The University of Johannesburg (UJ) hosted the 9th Annual Helen Joseph Memorial Lecture on Thursday, 27 August 2015. This year’s speaker, Advocate Vusi Pikoli, tackled the question: Is an independent judiciary a threat to democracy?
The Helen Joseph Memorial Lecture, hosted by UJ’s Faculty of Humanities and the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA), is used to honour the anti-apartheid activist Helen Joseph, who was one of the leaders in the iconic 1956 Women’s March to the Union Buildings.
Adv. Pikoli first took time to pay homage to women, including Helen Joseph, who selflessly contributed to the freedom of South Africa, highlighting that strengthening our democracy is the best way to honour them.
Speaking frankly and passionately, Adv Pikoli addressed the importance of the independence of the judiciary, an issue that has become contentious in recent months owing to the tensions between the country’s judges and the Executive. He described the tensions as an attack on the Judiciary. In this regard, he said: “Please note that I am calling these attacks and not criticism of the Judiciary because this is what they are. How else does one categorise utterances that “judgements of certain regions and judges are consistently against the state which creates an impression of negative bias by “elements within the Judiciary who meet with characters to produce certain judgements”.
He argued that if the executive is constantly criticizing the Judiciary, the authority of the courts and the justice system is likely to be undermined, public confidence is eroded which in turn diminishes the integrity and impartiality of the judges.
Coincidentally, his address took place the same day that President Jacob Zuma and members of his Executive met with the judges in an effort to discuss and resolve the issues.
Having served at various organisations, including government, corporate and civil, Adv. Pikoli’s address illustrated a deep and passionate understanding of the country’s constitution and organs of state. He took a thoughtful look at the constitution, explaining how it is binding for all members of South Africa including individuals, government employees, members of Parliament and even members of the judiciary.
“In simple terms, not only are the Executives and Legislature bound [by the constitution], but also the judiciary itself is bound by the constitution. Something which the politicians often seem to miss,” said Pikoli.
Adv. Pikoli called on all South Africans to rise to protect the independence of the judiciary and also lauded Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng for calling a meeting with the Executive to address the tensions between them. “Tensions can be healthy for as long as they are not antagonistic and irreconcilable… he concluded with the call: Hands off our judiciary.”
Every year the lecture attracts people from different walks of life and this year was no different, this included academics, government employees, corporate executives, civil organisations, students and the working class.
About the Helen Joseph Lecture
The focus of the lecture is to honour Helen Joseph as an iconic figure who played a significant role in the struggle for freedom in South Africa. For 40 years Joseph dedicated herself to opposing Apartheid.
She was unceasingly committed to the service of others. Helen was an inspirational symbol of defiance, integrity and courage. The lecture is hosted by the UJ Vice-Chancellor, in collaboration with the Faculty of Humanities and the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at UJ. Past speakers include Political Science Professor at Wits University, Shireen Hassim (2014); CSDA Director and Professor of Social Development Studies (UJ), Leila Patel (2013); South African advocate and the Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela (2012).
About Adv. Vusi Pikoli
Vusi Pikoli holds B.A. (law) and LLB from the National University of Lesotho and an LLM from the University of Zimbabwe. In 1994 he was appointed Special Adviser to the first Minister of Justice in post-apartheid South Africa. He was admitted as an advocate of the High Court of South Africa in 1995. Later, in 2005, he was appointed National Director of Public Prosecution. Adv. Pikoli is currently the Western Cape Police Ombudsman and has previously played various crucial roles in corporate and independent bodies. He also serves on the Advisory Council of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC). He has co-authored a book with Mandy Wiener: My second initiation – the memoir of Vusi Pikoli.