Letters to the Editor: January 13
‘All power’ is unconstitutional
True democrats observing the elaborate celebrations of the ANC centenary must have winced when President Jacob Zuma embellished his usual “amandla, awethu” introductory chanting with the repeated additional chant “all power”, before launching into his long and boring speech.
By deploying these two little words, Zuma let his “constitutional compliance” mask slip for a moment to reveal a glimpse of the totalitarian truth that lurks beneath the sunny surface.
“Power is ours, all power” is a notion so at odds with the multiparty democracy under the rule of law that is envisioned in our Constitution that it cannot be left unchallenged, even on an occasion as joyous as the centenary celebrations of the ANC.
The basic tenets of constitutionalism do not contemplate that “all power” is on offer to any party or individual. If “all power” resides anywhere, it resides within the Constitution itself.
This is the fundamental difference between the system of parliamentary sovereignty that was de rigueur in the dark days of apartheid and our preferable-by-far constitutional democracy with its justiciable Bill of Rights.
“All power” was transferred from the pre-1994 Parliament to the Constitution when the transition to non-racial democracy was negotiated between February 2 1990, when the liberation movements were unbanned, and February 4 1997, when the current Constitution commenced.
One of the past injustices recognised by the South African people in making this change is that freedom, dignity and the promotion of the achievement of equality cannot be nurtured in a system in which “all power” is monopolised by any party, whether its majority is large or small.
This is why the new Constitution says that “law or conduct that is inconsistent with it is invalid and the obligations imposed by it must be fulfilled”.
Some of the most important of these obligations are set out in the Bill of Rights, which envisages dignity, equality and various freedoms, which the state is obliged to “respect, protect, promote and fulfil” for all who live in South Africa. Rationality and legality have superseded the blunt exercise of all power in the new set-up. It is also of the essence of constitutionalism that there are checks and balances on the exercise of power. These are abundant in our Constitution: not only is there a separation of powers between the legislature, executive and our internationally respected independent judiciary, there are also Chapter 9 institutions—state bodies that support constitutional democracy—including the public protector, the auditor general, the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Gender Equality
All this is to ensure that totalitarianism does not find favour in the corridors of party-political power. This is as it should be in any truly liberated society in which accountability and responsiveness are the watchwords.
The president should desist from chanting “all power”, especially when the whole world is watching him.—Paul Hoffman, director, Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa
Present and recent past ANC leaders constantly refer to “our people”. Who are these “people” referred to in statements and speeches? It is almost as if politicians have been anointed to a royal position over their subjects, except that they take no responsibility for them.
Year in, year out we hear about the concern for “our people”, but all we see is the flaunting of opulence and extravagant parties.
Parents have to witness their kids attending mud schools or schools under trees. Is it these people who are being referred to? Is it the people who have been on a housing waiting list for years, only to be leapfrogged by someone who has bribed the official issuing these houses?
Where are the “people” when the government pays inflated amounts for what it procures solely because some people are anointed suppliers and contractors when they are just middlemen who are getting the work? Where are the “people” when the family members of politicians make a quantum leap in terms of wealth accumulation?
Where are the “people” when we have provinces like the Eastern Cape, which is almost like a delinquent kid who never seems to do anything right but never gets disciplined by the parents? Is this because it represents a huge voting bloc in the ANC’s elective conference and it decides who is voted in?
The ANC should listen harder to the cry of desperation from the majority of people in this country. They are “our people”.—Moremedi Mokoto
What stood out for me in President Jacob Zuma’s speech at the weekend was his plea for dialogue between South Africans regarding the country’s future direction.
Will the ANC take his plea seriously, in action and not just words? As an Afrikaner male, I have often felt unwanted and excluded from airing my views on how best we can build a common prosperous nation for all South Africans.
The ANC often claims to be the true parliament of the people, but continues to shut out its potential supporters.
I was deeply moved by Zuma’s plea for broader dialogue. This beautiful country desperately needs to hold a fresh, genuine dialogue with itself to engineer an all-inclusive South Africa in which all racial groups share a common destiny.
A concern about the ANC is the calibre of some of its leaders. Some of these questionable characters are exceedingly arrogant, dishonest, corrupt and incompetent. Will the ANC be bold enough to sacrifice them?
Though I am not an ANC member, I see in it signs of hope and great potential to unite and build a great nation. And I congratulate the party for reaching 100 years while still on its feet.—Deon Lambert, Pietermaritzburg
When one hears the many insults that Jacob Zuma undergoes every day, one is not surprised. Ever since he took over leadership of the ANC, it has been leaning more to the left, playing an active role in the emancipation of the working class rather than taking a “neutral” position in South African politics.
His leadership has been clear and decisive rather than being guided by too much diplomacy. That is what rightwingers hate about him.
There has been a huge difference in terms of applying ANC ideology. Only Zuma would be brave enough to wipe out the R1-billion debt Cuba owes South Africa.
He has opened more space for the left in government and in the ANC and this is a huge loss to rightwingers who rush to the media to try to discredit him.—Kwazi Mthembu, Soweto
On ‘McMafia comes to town’ by Sam Sole:
The problem with South Africa is that the government failed to ensure properly that checks and balances were in place before allowing these criminals into the country and now that they are here it does not have the power, or stomach, to deport them. A lot of politicians and police officials would not be able to survive without the kickbacks and bribes they receive from organised crime. To be blunt, the government and its law enforcement branches are little more than departments of organised crime.—David Ludlow
What ever happened to the Mail & Guardian‘s lawsuit to open up the Refugee Appeals Tribunal to public scrutiny? This is, after all, the place where these hoods “buy” South African residency.—Paul O’Sullivan
On ‘The suspicious seventies’ (our second editorial):
The education system is on life support and these much-touted increases in pass rates mean nothing when 30% is considered a pass. The only way to fix the problem is to send teachers back to school, ban teacher unions completely, root out the rotten apples and get rid of them once and for all and take a long, hard look at the successful education systems in countries such as Japan, South Korea and Canada. Education should never be left to politicians, especially in South Africa.—Patrick Saunders
At this rate it will not be too long before we have a pass rate of 103.6%—and, yes, that will be as believable as a year-on-year increase in the pass rate despite teacher strikes and all the rest. Dropping the pass marks and the standards is not the way to go. A nation’s true wealth is in its educated populace. That is real wealth because it is infinitely renewable and allows that nation to compete internationally in providing services and allowing it to operate more efficiently.—Rod Baker
Because education is politicised, it is not surprising that the “better” statistics are distilled and presented with a Sepp Blatter-type fanfare. Education is not a cocktail party. The most important statistic to me is that 38000 fewer pupils matriculated in 2011 compared with 2010. The ruling party cannot manage education any more than they can manage health, housing, transport, crime, corruption or service delivery.—Peter Auld
It might be “stable” but it is far from being a great education system. The matric certificate is not worth the paper it is written on. With a required pass mark of 30%, and 40% in the case of first language, I am surprised that the pass rate is not 100%.—Eric West
On ‘In defence of race-based policy’ by Max Price:
I do not feel comfortable with any selection policy that puts race ahead of ability, marks, aptitude and so on. What I find strange nowadays is how university is considered a right, even if your marks are well below par, you have little or no ability or aptitude for the course you are taking, or the financial capability to pay for it, and in all probability will drop out. Both my eldest brother and eldest sister went to varsity, but I, along with my older brother and sister, did not. This was simply because our folks could only afford to send two of us. In those days, attending varsity was something of a privilege, not a right, and you were accepted only if you passed muster as regards your school marks, ability, aptitude, etc. Bursaries and grants were awarded only to the real top performers and I was too thick to be in their ranks.—Rod Baker
A race-based policy is discriminatory no matter how you try to explain it. Tertiary education is a privilege and not a right. Those who have the ability but not the finances can apply for bursaries or student loans. These should be awarded on merit and not race. All that these race policies do is create a society that believes they are entitled to whatever purely because they are disadvantaged. If you want something, put in the effort and work for it and achieve it on your own merit and not because a racist policy facilitated it.—Cheryl van Greunen
Cheryl, although your statement talks about effort and work, you do not acknowledge that two students can put in the same amount of work but get different outcomes because of the presence, or lack thereof, of a supporting environment. Although not a perfect system, what is important is that this is an admissions policy, not a graduation policy. Graduation is based on merit—your race or socioeconomic status does not hold. A lot of students have benefited from the extended programmes at the University of Cape Town, have graduated and joined the labour pool. They would not have achieved what they did had they not been admitted into the system.—GovernorTS
There are tons of quality black pupils coming out of model C and private schools, so race-based criteria are rubbish. However, a weighting system acknowledging socio-economic criteria in a scientific way, such as a poor kid in a rural or under-performing school, does make sense.—Khalsa Singh