Stand up for our constitution
After 20 years of democracy, we need to take stock, says George Devenish
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]bout 20 years ago, in the early hours of the morning, on December 9, 1993, a historic political settlement was reached between the participating parties in the Multiparty Negotiating Process that had commenced with Codesa (Convention for a Democratic South Africa) in 1992. This crucial political settlement involved, inter alia, the adoption of an interim constitution and the setting of the date for the first democratic election – April 27, 1994.It was the end of a protracted and tragic oligarchic epoch that involved institutionalised racism and the beginning of a new democratic non-racial one that had great prospects for political and social justice.
The interim constitution was the outcome of a comprehensive process of intense political negotiation and significant compromises.
To reach agreement all the major parties had to make compromises. For example, the ANC shifted its stance on regionalism, from initially desiring a unitary form of government to accepting a quasi-federal form. The 34 constitutional principles, which were an integral part of the interim constitution, formed a significant part of the political settlement, since they were binding on the Constitutional Assembly, which was tasked with drafting the final constitution.
The interim constitution established a fundamentally new political and constitutional dispensation, premised on the supremacy of a rigid constitution and an enforceable Bill of Rights. This was in marked contrast to the discredited apartheid dispensation. The new dispensation also involved the complex issue of dismantling the Bantustans and the nominally independent TBVC (Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei) states and their reincorporation into a unified South African state, with nine provinces, constituting a quasi-federal dispensation.
The Bill of Rights and stipulated fundamental values – such as human dignity, equality and liberty as well as the rule of law, non-sexism, non-racism, accountability and a multiparty political system – were entrenched and formed the foundation on which a new and far more just body politic was to be developed.
The constitution involved the separation of powers, with the creation of a new apex court, the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court had the power to invalidate any law in conflict with the supreme constitution, thereby instituting a testing right and judicial as opposed to legislative supremacy, as had previously prevailed under the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty.
The Bill of Rights made provision for substantive equality and not merely formal equality, by including a provision for affirmative action, which was essential to redress the position of people disadvantaged by past discrimination.
The leadership qualities of Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk played an indispensable role in the forging of the political settlement and the interim constitution. Mandela displayed that he was a man of consummate vision, magnanimity and the willingness to compromise. In his approach, he was pragmatic and moral, thereby earning international and domestic esteem. De Klerk also made a seminal contribution to transformation that ushered in the interim constitution, as a courageous reformer of historic calibre, who in an exemplary manner stepped aside to allow Mandela to take over the reins of government and enjoy the limelight.
As far as negotiators are concerned, mention must be made of Colin Eglin, who like Mandela, recently passed away. After 20 years of democracy it is essential that we, as a nation, take stock. We have come a long way, but still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, millions of our people still live in informal settlements and experience abject and grinding poverty. These issues pose an inordinate challenge to the leaders and the people of this great country. South Africans and their leaders, having crafted an exemplary constitution, at an inordinate cost, must defend and promote it against the predations of unscrupulous people in the new body politic who are corrupt and avaricious.
We need to seize the challenges that we are confronted with and work unstintingly to ensure that all our people benefit from its content and values encapsulated in it.
In effect, we need policies of social rehabilitation and compassion, grounded in the constitution, implemented by leaders of vision and integrity to eliminate poverty and inequality and bring about a moral and socially just society, that is caring and compassionate.
Courtesy: Cape Times