UKZN alumnus and former Constitutional Court Judge Zakeria “Zak” Yacoob delivered a webinar entitled Fake News, Lockdown and Unintended Consequences to more than 250 participants on the Zoom platform.
In his presentation, Yacoob said the government should treat Ministers in the same way as poor people. ‘Let us punish our leaders more than we punish the ordinary people in the country. Let us punish the rich more than we punish the poor. Let us punish the educated because they should know better, more than we punish the uneducated,’ said Yacoob. ‘Our whole method of enforcement is in reverse. We punish poor and vulnerable people.’
He condemned some of the “uncivilised and horrible” statements by the current Minister of Police, Bheki Cele which may have unintended consequences. ‘What better way to encourage non-compliance with the rules than by forcing compliance in the way in which he is doing?’ said Yacoob.
The former UKZN Ombudsman said police need training on how to exercise their duties ‘without killing anybody and without doing undue harm,’ and cited police training during apartheid times which centred on “how to treat the people as badly as you possibly can” and the Marikana tragedy as indicators that universities and other organisations need to step in and provide training manuals for the police force.
He added that citizen buy-in for the lockdown is crucial. ‘Ultimately, if the lockdowns are simply strict for the sake of strictness itself … if the government goes too far, it’s an absolute recipe for not obeying.’ Going too far with restrictions ‘creates a kind of discontent which opens up the minds of the people to fake news and therefore over-action by the government fertilises the soil for fake news.’
Referring to the sale of cigarettes and hot, cooked food, Yacoob said that the freedom entrenched in the Constitution is not a “licence to do what you want.” He said that South Africans have the right to go to court to fight the limitations, but that we have to comply with the court ruling. ‘We are not as each individual the source of our own authority.’
Speaking about fake news which is circulating on social media platforms, Yacoob emphasised that South Africans need to abide by the “majority opinion” – in other words the “dominant medical view”. He said that if you receive information that garlic combats the coronavirus, by all means take garlic – but ensure that all other protocols recommended by government are in place including social distancing, sanitising and wearing masks.
Yacoob, who has been blind since he was an infant, said that national and provincial government could combat fake news by providing scheduled, daily updates on the pandemic and that information issued by government should be monitored and transparent as government could also be the purveyor of fake information. ‘We are an awkward nation as we are either completely critical of government and say how miserable they are, or on the other hand, like now, we start hero-worshipping particular people and we begin to think that there could never be a better government than this in the world.’
Acting Executive Director of Corporate Relations, Ms Normah Zondo thanked Judge Yacoob for ‘sharing his wisdom with us’ and encouraged South Africans to avoid using their excess energy to spread fake news.
The webinar was facilitated by Pro Vice-Chancellor of Big Data and Informatics and South African Research Chair in Quantum Information Processing and Communication at the University, Professor Francesco Petruccione, and the School of Law’s Ms Janine Hicks.
To watch the webinar which was viewed by participants in countries ranging from the United Kingdom to Zimbabwe, visit: https://youtu.be/KonmaQl31fE
Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer