/ 14 September 2008

Civil society sprouts another champion

With celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the United Democratic Front barely over, another broad-based, left-leaning civil society grouping has been launched in Cape Town.

The Social Justice Coalition (SJC) seeks to give vent to popular frustration with the failure of political leaders to give priority to the poor and to defend the Constitution and judiciary against political attacks. Other SJC concerns are crime, xenophobia and gender-based violence.

Several hundred mainly young black people packed the Salt River community house on Wednesday evening this week for the first public lecture hosted by the SJC on the housing shortage.

Cape Town Judge Dennis Davis spoke, introducing himself — in an ironic tilt at ANC rhetoric — as a ”counter-revolutionary”.

”Unless we can close the gap between the Constitution and daily reality, we are indeed in deep trouble,” Davis said.

”The politics in this country failed Irene Grootboom. Between politics and the law we must find social solutions and develop a jurisprudence and a civil society which will demand relief for the likes of her.” Grootboom died homeless two months ago, eight years after the Constitutional Court ruled that the state had a duty to house her.

A parallel SJC meeting in Cape Town three weeks ago saw a range of top civil society leaders discussing how best to oppose attacks on the Constitution and the judicial system.

Attendees included former Truth and Reconciliation Commission heavyweight Alex Boraine, Zackie Achmat from the Treatment Action Campaign, former ANC minister Kader Asmal, university academics Phumla Gobodo-Madikizela and Mamphela Ramphele, UDF founder member Andrew Boraine and advocate Geoff Budlender.

The SJC grew out of civil society endeavours to help victims of xenophobic violence in Cape Town. One of the organisation’s founders, Kabir Bavikatte, said: ”We want to uphold open, accountable and ethical government on the basis of the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law through democratic participation.”