It occurred to me on Friday night that it would have been a good idea to be in court on Friday morning when the Minister’s lawyers and The Sunday Times’ lawyers argued the matter in the High Court before Judge Mahomed Jajbhay on Friday. The reports of the arguments were interesting, although incomplete (there doesn’t seem to have been much more than a superficial coverage of the arguments presented in Court by the larger media companies) because of the different lines they took. Manto’s lawyers argued that parts of The Sunday Times’ papers pertaining to her Botswana experiences should be struck out as “scandalous, vexatious and irrelevant” (affidavits should not contain allegations which cross this line and can be struck out of they do) and further that The Sunday Times crossed the line in its attack on the Minister. The articles about the Minister’s antics were described as part of a vendetta against the Minister.
The Sunday Times’ counsel argued that the reports were in the public interest and that the freedom of expression ought to take precedence over the Minister’s right to privacy. There are often conflicts between competing rights and even where there are rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights involved, the competing interests are weighed up having regard to certain principles set out in the Limitations clause of the Bill of Rights which provides as follows:
In the meantime the Minister has refused to step down and has asked why she should.
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I am sure that evidence supporting The Sunday Times’ allegations will emerge during the next set of proceedings against The Sunday Times. This application is unlikely to be the end of the story and I expect to see Manto sue The Sunday Times for defamation in due course and that is when the evidence against her will be tested.
In theory this matter could precipitate a crisis in government because it opens the door to possible votes of no confidence in Manto and even the President is he is incapable of handling this matter properly. In practice it is unlikely because a majority vote is required and it is improbable that the ANC majority would take such action against its senior leadership, short of a coup against the President. This is one of the challenges presented by such an overwhelming majority of the National Assembly being controlled by a single party and a feature of our democracy. It is also unlikely to change in the foreseeable future because of the ANC’s support base. This is why it is so important to have a national executive that actively seeks to act as fairly as possible and in the public interest. If Manto escapes from this scandal unscathed where there is clear evidence of her misconduct and unsuitability to be a Minister in our government it will mean that we don’t have a government that truly acts in the public interest and rather one that serves its own desires.