At midnight on Thursday 26 March 2020, South Africa went into a country-wide lockdown that was expected to last 21 days; little did we know how dramatically life would change and that nearly a year later, as without prejudice is published, we would still be in lockdown, albeit in a less strict format. During this period, over one and a half mil- lion people in South Africa have contracted the disease and, of those, more than forty-nine and a half thousand people have died. According to the WHO (World Health Organisation), as at 25 February, globally, 112 million people had contracted the coronavirus – two and a half million of whom have lost their lives. Those are bleak figures.
Would it have made any difference if the Chinese authorities had listened to Dr Li Wenliang when he drew attention to the infections, instead of demanding that he sign a statement denouncing his warnings? Maybe not, but we will never know if fear of loss of face resulted in this horrific war being waged on mankind by an invisible foe. That is a terrible thing for anyone with a con- science to live with.
While there is talk of fewer restrictions over the European summer, Australia talks of opening its borders in October, while other Australian authorities are more sceptical and talk of 2022. What is certain is that everything remains uncertain.
Since COVID-19 remains front of mind for us all, without prejudice puts the spotlight on various issues related to that. I asked Sally Hutton and Christo Els, who head up Webber Wentzel, to write on the challenges of leadership during this time. Their frank appraisal of their roles over the past year makes for great reading. I am very grateful to all the practitioners who wrote for this section – the topics range widely and I believe this is the most interesting collection of articles on COVID-19 that I have read. The section ends with an article by John McKnight of Spoor & Fisher who, articulately, sums up pretty well exactly how most of us feel.
Another scourge that has become increasingly worrying is that of violence. Brigitta Mangala and Akhona Mgwaba of Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr write that there are three new Bills – the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill, Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill – before the National Assembly. Violence against anyone, of any sex or age, is abhorrent. That behind the smiling mask of someone we 'know' lurks a monster is a fearful thought. I recently read about an interview with a celebrity who was, for many years, in an abusive relationship. Her comment was that victims should not be asked why they stayed, but rather that perpetrators should be asked why they held their partner hostage. But, if we don't understand why people stay, how will it be possible to do what society apparently doesn't know how to do – talk to the survivors about their ordeals? According to an American organisation, CDC, one in four women and one in seven men will be victims of domestic abuse in their lifetime. It is to be hoped that these Bills will result in perpetrators being held accountable.
Despite our President's best intentions, it appears to most of us that those who have been party to corruption are unlikely to pay a price – or be obliged to return what they received or took illegally. The trial for erstwhile South African President Zuma is set down for May – we will not hold our collective breath. After all, this started in 2005. Accountability is supposed to be a cornerstone of democracy – if our politicians, and others who are expected to set an example of honesty, are not held accountable, can South Africa truly claim to be a democracy?
This is the first quarterly issue of without prejudice. I am, as always, very grateful to practitioners who write interesting articles, often on unusual aspects of legal matters, for the publication. Writing for without prejudice is certainly good for firm and practitioner marketing but, equally importantly, it provides information that comes from knowledge. For many practitioners, writing is a creative outlet, even on legal topics – the challenge is to hold the readers' attention, sometimes surprising the editorial team with how interesting the article is, despite an initial dryness of topic. Above all, writers 'pay forward' knowledge to those who may not have the same resources. In recent years, acquiring information for free has become expected.
Unfortunately, providing that information to readers cannot be done on 'love and fresh air'. without prejudice now has several sponsorship levels which, over four quarters, makes it eminently affordable for firms and individuals to ensure the future of the magazine way beyond this, its 20th year in publication.