Malema case is cause for trepidation

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Last week, a newspaper broke a story that expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema would soon be arrested.

City Press reported that the warrant was issued on Friday morning and that Malema was due to appear in a Pretoria or Polokwane court this week on charges of money laundering, corruption, and fraud,

City Press said the matter related to his Ratanang Family Trust and its shareholding in On-Point Engineering – a company that had made millions from Limpopo government tenders.

There followed a flurry of activity as journalists looked for official confirmation of the City Press story.

The SA Revenue Service said it had nothing to do with any warrant for Malema's arrest.

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In a statement, SARS said "We want to state categorically that any and all reports that SARS requested that a warrant be issued for Mr Malema's arrest are completely untrue and without foundation. SARS is not involved in the criminal investigation into and prosecution of this matter."

Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela told Sapa: "The Hawks don't issue warrants, so we don't comment on that. Even if we were planning to arrest him, we won't tell you."

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa's spokesman, Zweli Mnisi, referred queries to provincial police.

Gauteng police spokesman, Brigadier Neville Malila, said he knew nothing about an arrest warrant for Malema.Justice department spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga could not be reached for comment.

It was only that evening that Malema's lawyer Nicqui Galaktiou told Sapa that an arrest warrant had been issued for Malema and that he was due to appear in a Polokwane court this week.

She told Sapa: "We were notified today that a warrant of arrest was issued for Mr Malema, We don't know which court and when it will happen, but we are engaging with authorities on that. It will be in Polokwane."

She said the charges against her client were unknown.

"We do not know what the charges are and we don't have a copy of the warrant."

Things were relatively quiet for the next 24 hours or so until the Sunday Times reported what it claimed were details of charges against Malema in a front page lead headlined: "Nine in dock with Juju."

The report read:

"Expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema will answer to charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering in a R100-million graft case that aims to bring down the so-called 'Limpopo mafia'. The Sunday Times can reveal that Malema is listed as 'accused No 10' on the charge sheet. He is accused with five individuals and four companies, and will appear in the Polokwane Magistrate's Court this week. He is likely to be formally charged and released on bail."

Based on reports to date, it seems that Malema will be appearing in court sometime today, Wednesday, 26 September 2012.

As I write these words on Tuesday afternoon, Malema's lawyers have still not been given a copy of the charge sheet.

"We have not received a copy of the charge sheet, neither have we seen a warrant of arrest with any details of the case," the attorneys said in a statement.

This entire sequence of events leaves me with a feeling of trepidation.

The basic rules of journalism tell us that the only time at which a person accused in a criminal case can be identified is when he has been (a) charged, (b) appeared in court, and (c) pleaded guilty or not guilty.

All other information relating to the alleged criminality is sub judice – under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion elsewhere.

If you think about it, this is reasonable. Everyone is innocent until proven otherwise and any conjecture until a court has passed judgment is unfair speculation. What happens in court, on the other hand, is a matter of public record.

It is my view that the conduct of both City Press and the Sunday Times is entirely unprofessional. They have bypassed the basic rules of journalism and have ridden rough-shod over Malema's right to due process.

But of greater concern to me is that the fact that major news organisations are being drip-fed snippets of what purports to be inside information on the Malema issue and are content to, lemming like, feed that into the public domain.

Meanwhile, the person who should be first to have the opportunity to face his accuser has received no information other than that he needs to present himself in court on Wednesday.

Let's be very clear on one point: I loathe Julius Malema. His populist rhetoric and hate speech for me represent the worst of us as a species. It terrifies me that he exerts as much influence upon our society as he does.

But Malema's rights under the constitution are the same as my rights under the constitution.

It is very clear to me that his rights are being subverted, and that elements of the media are party to that travesty of justice.

This terrifies me even more.