Mail & Guardian

Ramphele slams Cabinet's court review decision

25 Nov 2011 16:34 | Nickolaus Bauer

Struggle veteran Mamphela Ramphele has sharply criticised Cabinet's plans of a court review mechanism, describing it as harmful to South Africa's democracy

South African icon Dr Mamphela Ramphele slated cabinet's touted plans for a court review mechanism on Friday, labelling the idea as "poison for our democracy".

Read Dr Mamphela Ramphele's full statement here

The renowned academic and businesswoman pulled no punches in her criticism via statement issued in her capacity as board member of the Open Society Foundation.

"The core of the decision is that the role of the judiciary is to be assessed by an institute appointed by government and that even the decisions of the Constitutional Court are to be subject to such assessment. This assessment of the judiciary, at the instigation of the executive, invites the assumption that the role of the courts and the Constitutional Court in particular, as ultimate arbiters of our Constitution, is to be usurped," Ramphele wrote.

On Thursday, Cabinet unveiled plans to have decisions of the Constitutional Court "assessed" as part of broader transformation efforts of the South African judiciary.

"Our aim is to enhance synergy and constructive engagement among them in pursuit of common transformative goals geared to benefit society at large", Manyi was said.

The decisions follows hot on the heels of the controversial passing of the Protection of State Information Bill in parliament on Tuesday, which journalists and civil society have vowed to challenge in the Constitutional Court.

Judiciary manipulation
Ramphele likened Cabinet's move to the way in which the South African judiciary was manipulated by the apartheid government during the inquest into the death of Steve Biko -- with whom she had two children.

"I know only too painfully well what it means when the judicial arm of government is cowed, is subjugated before the executive: when it acts only as an extension of executive authority.

"Thirty four years ago this month, the inquest into Steve Biko's death was held. Despite the extensive and overwhelming evidence that Biko had been abused and murdered by the security branch, Pretoria's chief magistrate delivered a verdict that exonerated each and every one of them.

"Counsel for the family, Sidney Kentridge argued in his closing address that such a verdict would give license to abuse helpless people with impunity. And it did. Scores died in detention in the years that followed," she said.

Mamphele also argued that decisions by the Constitutional Court have already proved vital in upholding the human rights of South Africans. She refers to the case in which the Treatment Action Campaign took the state to court in 2000, demanding the widening provision of Nevirapine -- medication reducing the transmission of HIV from mother to child.

The TAC won the case and thousands of citizens enjoyed a broader delivery of the drug.

"Who knows how many lives have been saved as a result of that decision. A cowed court, a court unduly fearful of executive repercussion could not have made such judgment. That the Concourt did, that policy was altered, is a reflection of the health of our democracy, a tribute not only to our courts, but to our executive and legislative branches as well," she added.

At the end of her statement, Ramphele calls on President Jacob Zuma to consider the returning the secrecy Bill to Parliament.

"Members of Parliament are likely to refer the secrecy Bill, once signed by the president into law, to the Concourt. But the president has an opportunity, long before that, to act as the head of all our country and not just of the ruling party and refer the Bill back to the National Assembly for reconsideration of its constitutionality or to refer it to the Concourt for determination of its constitutionality. In so doing he would realise the vision of our Constitution: of integrated but independent arms of government, acknowledging the special role preserved for our courts and the Concourt in particular," she said.

The passing of the Protection of State Information Bill came as no surprise, raising the threat to media freedom. View our special report.

View the original online publication here