JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s president and its top judge are to meet to try to resolve an intensifying row between the government and the judiciary over the state’s failure to detain Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir last month.
Government officials say judges are biased against the state and the ruling ANC has said some were driven to “create chaos” and were guilty of “judicial overreach”, naming the Cape High Court and the high court in Pretoria that heard the Bashir case.
The high court has ruled that the state was at fault in letting Bashir leave the country despite a global arrest warrant and a court order barring him from doing so.
Judges say that the government should respect the rulings of what is one of the country’s most respected institutions.
“Judges, like others should be susceptible to constructive criticism. However, in this regard, the criticism should be fair and in good faith. Importantly the criticism should be specific and clear. General gratuitous criticism is unacceptable,” Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said in a media briefing on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Supreme Court of Appeal president, Lex Mpati, told Talk Radio 702, “If we’re going to disrespect court orders or we’re going to want to go out and do things which are not legal or lawful, then of course we are treading on dangerous grounds.”
Mogoeng has called for a meeting with Zuma, who says he will see the chief justice after the BRICS nations’ summit in Ufa, Russia, that ends today.
“The president wishes to reassert his own commitment and that of the executive to the independence of the judiciary and its role as the final arbiter in all disputes in society, the presidency said in a statement.
Daily Maverick columnist Stephen Grootes wrote: “Twenty-one years into our democracy we are facing a crisis that could render our society dysfunctional, in this turbulent and ever-changing space, Chief Justice Mogoeng’s intervention might one day be seen as one of the courageous acts that saved South Africa’s budding democracy.”