“The People’s Constitution, our land’s supreme law founded on the principles of the Freedom Charter of 1955, has been tested by fire, and emerged stronger than before,” said Dr Mathews Phosa during a diplomatic mission luncheon on Tuesday.
Phosa, who was speaking to more than 20 Asian ambassadors, said Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng’s recent historical Constitutional Court judgement on the Nkandla matter was an indication that South Africa’s constitution stood firm in the storm and was resilient.
Noting that it took almost 20 years since the Constitution was adopted in 1996 for the Constitution to face its first real test, Phosa said its resiliency was a “testament to the amount of thought and consultation that went into the developing and final acceptance of this special legal prescript”.
Phosa, a senior member of the African National Congress’ (ANC), said suggestions that the ruling party could not “do the right thing” because it may be seen to be buckling under pressure from opposition parties were just “a poor excuse”.
He said the ANC must “understand that not everybody voted for the ANC and even those that voted for the opposition parties need to feel that the government is protecting their Constitutional rights”.
Phosa said the judgement showed “how brightly our judiciary’s light shone”, and how critical it was for the chief justice to “bravely speak truth to power without fear, favour or prejudice”.
He said leaders and politicians must start taking responsibility and lead and act in “ways that will inspire the nation and give hope to the future.”
His remarks appeared aimed at President Jacob Zuma who has resisted calls to resign after the Constitutional Court last month found that he had “failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution”.
The President had failed to follow remdial action as direct by the Public Protector who found that Zuma and his family had unduly benefited from supposed security upgrades at his Nkandla home, which included an amphitheatre, cattle kraal and swimming pool. The Public Protector directed that Zuma should pay a portio of the upgrades that cost the state about R250 million.
However, earlier this month Zuma overcame a move to remove him from office after his majority ANC voted against impeachment in Parliament.
Phosa cautioned those who called for “the protection of individuals and the party” saying “the corrupt and morally perverse would eventually be exposed”.
“By not acting on what has been exposed and clarified, we will be measured by our ability or inability to lead, and by our action or inaction to provide leadership and a moral compass when we were called upon to do so.”
Phosa, who said he was a proud ANC member and he found it particularly painful to watch how the “moral backbone of the African National Congress is being eroded in favour of protecting the few”.
He added: “Wielding power over your fellow man is a privilege bestowed by the electorate in a gesture of trust. It is not a licence for unchecked corruption and greed, and can be reversed cruelly and swiftly at the ballot box.”
Phosa said he hoped that the ANC would be able to resolve its challenges.
“It is as if our leadership is blind to the fractures it is causing in the party, the liberation movement and the country.”
South Africa is suffering, he said, because the ruling party has become “intellectually and morally imprisoned because it has shaped itself in the image and example of its flawed leader”.
Phosa told the diplomats that “now was the time for the ANC to put the country and the electorate first, and not their own pockets as “the party can never be more important than the state”.
The former premier of Mpumalanga said: “Good leaders read widely, debate openly with a view to learn while developing their opinions and honing their skills” and also “never blindly follow any policy or person into the abyss”.
Making a reference to Nelson Mandela’s leadership, Phosa said: “It is now time, however late in the day, for our President to follow our first democratically elected Presidents’ example.”
He cautioned that if things did not improve, the ANC would be its own casualty.
“True leaders will not tolerate the corrupt or corruption, or, in its most recent and naked form, attempted state capture. True leaders will also not defend corrupt leaders. True leaders will create space for others when found wanting,” said Phosa, who is also an attorney.
“We are a constitutional democracy, with sound principles and an electorate that will not stay dedicated to supporting the ruling party forever.” – African News Agency (ANA)