The ANC’s faith in South Africa’s judicial system has been given “a boost” by Friday’s Pietermaritzburg High Court ruling, party president Jacob Zuma said in Johannesburg.

 “Our faith in the judiciary has no doubt been given a further boost by the ruling of Justice [Chris] Nicholson in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, who ruled without fear, favour or prejudice,” Zuma told representatives of the Hellenic, Italian and Portuguese communities in Turffontein on Monday evening.

Zuma reassured them that the country belonged to all who lived in it.

In Friday’s judgement, Zuma said it “re-emphasised the independence of the judiciary and the critical role it plays in interpreting our Constitution to protect the rights of individuals against, for example, the state and its apparatus”.

Zuma said most importantly, Nicholson had opened the nation’s eyes to the need to transform and protect the country’s democratic institutions and prevent their abuse to further political agendas. He also said the country had a responsibility to promote press freedom, another key element in the Constitution.

“Our country needs a media that is free of political control and influence. We need a media that will go behind the scenes and thoroughly investigate claims made by people in authority, to provide the public with independently obtained, factual information.”

He said a subservient media was dangerous to the country’s democracy as it allowed those in power to abuse the rights of others at will.

Unity within the African National Congress remained his “number one” priority. “We have since Polokwane been criss-crossing the country, visiting our structures to iron out problems and conflict in order to restore order and stability in our movement…” Progress had been made and, by the time the party launched its 2009 election manifesto, it should be a “well-oiled, cohesive machine”.

Zuma said South Africans were united in the call for crime to be dealt with decisively. He blamed the problem on the country’s history. “We are paying the price for apartheid colonialism, in which the development of communities was neglected and the police and courts were used to suppress political and social aspirations, instead of fighting crime.” As long people did not have equal access to opportunities to improve the quality of their lives, crime would continue to manifest in various forms. “We remain unrepentant in our call to the police to act mercilessly against dangerous criminals,” Zuma said.

The three communities expressed concern about affirmative action. Zuma however said the ANC remained fully committed to its position that the exclusion of blacks from management and other critical areas in organisations could only be addressed through a vigorous and sustainable affirmative action policy. “We have not reached a stage where we can say affirmative action should be on its way out. “However, as said to many concerned organisations, especially those representing whites, we listen to those concerns, ensure dialogue and promote understanding regarding implementation,” he said.