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South African democracy passes a crucial test

  • JeffKatz
The tumultuous events of the past few months lent an additional degree of importance to this year’s State of the Nation (SONA) address. Among those who will have been listening especially carefully, were the business and investment community. Here, a definite positive was the President's recognition that business and the free market are essential in achieving growth.
by JEFF KATZ | Feb 17, 2016

Clearly, the business community’s warnings and suggestions as to how to create the correct investment support infrastructure have been taken on board. In general, the problems facing the country were acknowledged and not played down. One felt that Government has heard the concerns of various constituencies and is serious about taking action to address them.

SONA took place in the very week in which the President was obliged to appear before the Constitutional Court over Nkandla and, before the eyes of the nation, make a string of significant concessions.

It was a dramatic climb-down after many months of evasion and denial. Far more important than the amount that will ultimately be paid back, is the public demonstration that no-one in South Africa is above the law and that our democratic institutions, from a vigorous political opposition through to a free press, robust civil society and independent judiciary, are able when necessary to call to account government at the highest level.

Coincidentally, even as these events were unfolding on the local front, a former prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, was beginning his prison sentence for corruption.

Superficially, this might be indicative of something being profoundly wrong with both countries, but in fact, the opposite is true. The measure of a country’s political health is not the complete absence of high level corruption which is a completely unrealistic expectation, but that there exist the legal means as well as the political will to deal effectively with corruption when it does surface. Last week, both South Africa and Israel passed this important test of democracy.


Ombudsman ruling a victory for accurate reporting


We were satisfied by the Press Ombudsman ruling regarding the complaint jointly laid last year by the Board and SAZF against The Star. This substantially upheld our objections, namely that two news reports had grossly misrepresented what South Africa’s official policy was concerning arrest warrants issued by Turkey against four IDF commanders.

The complaint on the same issue lodged against the Cape Times by the SAZF (Western Cape) was also upheld. Our press statement on the ruling can be viewed on our Facebook, while for the full finding, visit

Generally speaking, we do not look to be adversarial with the media, preferring rather to maintain amicable and effective channels of communication through which to address differences when they do arise (usually through the paper concerned publishing a counter view).

In this case, however, we felt that the breach of accepted journalistic standards by the reporter concerned was sufficiently egregious to warrant making an approach to the Press Council.

The outcome has reaffirmed that while media independence is non-negotiable, the media itself must strive to uphold appropriate standards of accuracy and fairness in its news reporting.  


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