Editorial | Must raise the bar of political discourse
We are now officially in what many call the silly season of politics, with the general elections less than two months away. With that in mind, we can expect to see all kinds of mudslinging as politicians try to elbow each other to win the voters over.
This is the nature of politics everywhere in the world. Having said that, however, it is important for politicians to remember that freedom of expression – which is enshrined in our constitution – comes with responsibility.
Local politicians Lawrence Troon, Nontuthuzelo Jack and Knight Mali have come to learn this the hard way.
In the lead-up to the 2016 local government elections, they accused DA federal chair and Bay councillor Athol Trollip of, among other things, racism, bribery and of being a human rights abuser.
Trollip sued Troon and Mali for defamation, and opened a case of crimen injuria against Jack.
He won all cases.
In the latest matter, judge Sindile Toni ruled that the allegations by Mali – that Trollip exploited his staff on a farm he owned more than a decade ago – had painted Trollip as a brutal man with no regard for human rights.
He ordered Mali to pay R250,000 in damages and to pay Trollip’s legal costs – a decision Mali said he intends to appeal.
One of the important things to come out of the judgment were the words of Toni, who rightfully warned politicians to be mindful of the consequences of their actions.
He urged them to “play their political football with a measure of respect for each other’s constitutional rights”.
These cases demonstrate what we believe is the erosion of substantive debate in the body politic where personal maligning has become the preferred language of engagement rather than the legitimate criticism of an individual or party’s ideology and offering to the electorate.
Indeed, we must raise the bar of political discourse.