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By William Saunderson-Meyer

Journalist


Don’t muzzle free speech

It would be good to know who the 29 lawyers are who want a colleague disciplined over a tweet.


It is charmingly quaint that some SA lawyers believe their profession might be brought into more disrepute than that in which it already wallows. It is indescribably sad that they believe the exercise of free speech is the cause of such a calamity.

According to a TimesSelect report, 29 “aggrieved” lawyers have lodged a disciplinary complaint with the Legal Practice Council (LPC) against attorney Marc Aupiais. Aupiais has supposedly committed the grievous offence of “potentially bringing the legal profession into disrepute”.

How? He said something naughty on Twitter. Aupiais’ comments were of such a magnitude that they “violated the values of human dignity and equality as enshrined in the constitution”. His words were “an affront to the historical suffering of many South Africans and the project of bringing about social reform to ensure the democratic society”. His remarks “sows [sic] division and are deeply offensive to many South Africans”.

So, what vile calumny did Aupiais utter? It was a reaction to a tweet about the death of Zindzi Mandela. The tweet read: “Zindzi Mandela (59) just died in Johannesburg … do you guys remember her?”

But fearless journalism has exposed the true, diabolical nature of the exchange. It was posted by Willem Petzer who, says the reporter, is a “popular alt-right figure … who has feverishly campaigned as an activist for [sic] what he perceives to be a ‘white genocide’.”

Aupiais, in turn, exiled himself from society by allegedly responding – following the furore, he has removed himself and the tweet – that Zindzi had “finally got her plot of land”. To anyone who detests the political views of Zindzi, Aupiais’ comment would be damn funny.

And since it was posted on a social media platform that specialises in the outrageous, one would have thought that those slumming on Twitter could be assumed to be emotionally robust enough to endure a little snipe. Things could be far worse, when it comes to “violating the values of human dignity and equality as enshrined in the constitution”. Take, for example, these tweets: “[I] miss all these trembling white cowards, shem.

Botha, Potgieter, Thieving Rapist descendants of Van Riebeck [sic], etc: how are you my babies? We shall gesels more Mr Skont and Ms Unus #OurLand”.

Also, “They are cowards. You know those uninvited visitors who don’t want to leave.” These are tweets of Zindzi Mandela, made over several days while serving as our ambassador to Denmark. Zindzi’s punishment was to be rebuked for her lack of diplomacy.

I have no time for conspiracy theorists, like Petzer, who believe there is a government-tolerated white genocide. Neither do I feel much warmth for an ambassador, like Mandela, resorting to racist stereotypes. I would, however, not wish to silence either party. And it perturbs me that 29 unnamed lawyers are trying to do that.

It would be good to know who these 29 lawyers are. Who would want to be represented by a lawyer who wants a colleague disciplined? It will be interesting to see how the LPC handles this political hot potato.

If they give it anything other than short shrift, it will be the anonymous 29 and the LPC itself, which are placing the SA legal profession into disrepute.

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