Justice should be blind in Sekunjalo’s case against banks

The logos of Absa, Standard Bank and First National Bank adorn buildings in Cape Town. These three financial institutions, along with Nedbank, stopped doing business with the Gupta family. Picture: Mike Hutchings

The logos of Absa, Standard Bank and First National Bank adorn buildings in Cape Town. These three financial institutions, along with Nedbank, stopped doing business with the Gupta family. Picture: Mike Hutchings

Published Oct 16, 2023


IN THE realm of law and justice, Aristotle’s timeless aphorism that, “The law is reason free from passion” stands as a guiding light, urging us to uphold the principles of impartiality, fairness and rationality.

In today’s world, however, these principles face an arduous test as the justice system grapples with the relentless onslaught of media and social media courts of public opinion.

The case of South Africa’s Sekunjalo Group, its affiliated companies including Independent Media, and their much-maligned Group chairman, Dr Iqbal Survé, is emblematic of this predicament.

In a world where the court of public opinion often precedes due legal process, South Africa’s banks have made a collective and sweeping decision to close all Sekunjalo Group company bank accounts, potentially precipitating the group’s demise.

This prompts us to ponder the critical distinction between law and justice, and how both should harmonise to ensure a rational and equitable outcome for the group, its shareholders and its employees.

Aristotle’s insight serves as a beacon, reminding us that the law should remain untainted by the fiery passions of public opinion.

In Sekunjalo’s case, it is crucial to recognise that justice should be blind, impartial and rational. This principle is echoed in the words of the late Dr Wallace Mgoqi, an advocate and former AYO Technology Solutions (AYO) chairman who believed that, “justice should be based on the merits of a case, not the emotions surrounding it.”

The case of Sekunjalo and Survé is a striking example of how public opinion, fuelled by media narratives, can often prelude due legal process. It is imperative to understand that public opinion, while influential, should not supplant the rule of law.

Mgoqi noted that “public opinion is not a substitute for due process and the rule of law.”

The extensive media coverage and vilification of Survé and Sekunjalo created an environment where reason and justice seem to be at risk. Media trials can be emotionally charged, swaying public sentiment, but they are no substitutes for the dispassionate evaluation of facts and evidence within a courtroom.

The abrupt closure of all Sekunjalo Group company accounts by South African banks raises profound questions about the intersection of reason, justice and the preservation of reputation.

The banks’ argument that banking these companies would harm their reputation is a nebulous claim, lacking concrete evidence. It is crucial to remember that justice should be grounded in tangible facts, not vague allegations.

Mgoqi’s wisdom was particularly relevant when he emphasised that “justice is not about protecting reputation but ensuring a fair process and a fair outcome”. The banks’ actions raise concerns about whether reputation management has supplanted the rule of law and the principles of justice.

Law and justice, though closely intertwined, are distinct entities. Laws are codified rules and regulations established by governments to govern society’s behaviour.

Justice, on the other hand, is an abstract concept founded on principles of fairness, impartiality and equity. The Sekunjalo Group case serves as a stark reminder of the need to differentiate between law and justice and to ensure they operate in unison.

While laws provide a framework, justice demands that these laws are applied impartially and fairly. Mgoqi asserted that “justice requires the law to be administered fairly and equitably, without bias”.

In the case of Sekunjalo Group, it is imperative that the law is applied judiciously, based on facts and evidence, not on unproven allegations or reputational concerns.

In this highly contentious and emotionally charged situation, the principles of reason and justice must prevail. The closure of all Sekunjalo Group company accounts could have far-reaching consequences, affecting the livelihoods of countless employees and the investments of shareholders.

Justice, as Aristotle and Mgoqi espoused, should guide us towards a rational and equitable outcome.

A rational outcome involves a thorough examination of facts, evidence and due legal process. Mgoqi emphasised that “justice requires careful consideration of the evidence and a fair determination of the facts.”

Therefore, the only pertinent question is whether the decision to close these accounts aligns with the principles of reason, fairness and justice.

The Sekunjalo Group case is not merely a legal matter; it is a test of our commitment to upholding the principles of justice and reason in the face of public opinion and a reminder that justice must be steadfast, even in the face of public opinion.

To ensure justice prevails, a thorough and unbiased investigation is paramount. The closure of accounts, affecting an entire group, is a decision with wide-ranging repercussions. It is imperative that it is based on solid evidence and adheres to the principles of justice and reason, rather than unsubstantiated claims.

Moreover, a just outcome necessitates open and transparent communication, ensuring that all stakeholders understand the rationale behind the decisions made.

After all, transparency is essential for maintaining public trust in the justice system. Open dialogue and a clear presentation of the facts can help rebuild confidence in the process, which is sorely needed.

The Sekunjalo Group case highlights the profound importance of upholding the principles of reason and justice in our legal system. Aristotle’s wisdom, “The law is reason free from passion,” remains a guiding light, reminding us that justice should be impartial, rational and impervious to the emotional tides of public opinion.

Mgoqi’s insights further underscore the importance of fairness, transparency and equitable processes.

In a society where media trials and public opinion hold significant sway, our commitment to these principles is critical to ensuring a just and rational outcome for everyone, as it could be anyone on the receiving end of erroneous public opinion that quite literally ruins lives.

Hartley is Independent Media’s editor-in-chief.