Nelson Mandela Foundation: South Africa’s constitutional democracy is under threat

Constitutionalism and the translating of South Africa’s Constitutional rights into a lived reality for our people are fundamental to the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Today, however, it is clear that our country’s constitutional democracy is under threat and its political process in crisis.  We see this manifested in:

Structural corruption, whose onset in the contemporary phase is largely attributed to the “arms deal”. Since then its tentacles have spread throughout the economy and the public service. Even in the domain of interpersonal relations, it has replaced trustful mutuality with transactional intent, and public interest with self-interest.

Recently published scholarly research has demonstrated the emergence of a “shadow state” which undermines fundamentally the integrity and the efficacy of the constitutional state and which thrives on secrecy. This has resulted in a more or less systematic looting of public coffers. Secrecy and malicious intent are denied even as they are exposed and proven.

Levels of violence in society have deepened, with women and children being particularly targeted. They are not safe in their homes or in our streets. New research demonstrates that one in five South African children will be sexually abused. Professor Pumla Gqola describes rape as a national crisis and points to a deep-seated patriarchy which allows toxic masculinities to thrive.

Constitutional accountability by public officers in government has been eroded. This has led to a significant decline in purposeful and responsible public service to the general population, in particular responsiveness to the needs of the poor.

Transactional politics such as leads to the buying of votes has contributed to growing alienation from the political process by the broad public. This phenomenon has led to what academic Khaya Sithole calls the replacement of a politics of participation by a politics of ratification,  in which citizens ratify decisions taken elsewhere by others through a system now viewed as fragile.

Massive unemployment, an increasing disease burden, low levels of social security, a failing education system, slow economic growth and persistent inequality are a toxic mix that constantly assaults public hope in a viable future.

This entire situation has resulted from failures of leadership at multiple levels of Government and across the range of social sectors.

It is no wonder that today we have leaders who care neither for the authority of the Constitution nor for its vision.  Instead they use and abuse the constitutional state to build parallel bases of power and extract wealth shamelessly for themselves and their networks. 

It is no wonder that this untenable situation has led to calls across the land for the Head of State, President Zuma, largely regarded as the author of the current malaise, to vacate the highest office of state. We urge him to listen to the voice of the people.

Were he to do so, it would be the second time that he has heeded the call of the people. The first time was when he, together with countless others, gave of themselves to the noble cause of liberation. His task to preserve, protect, and defend the gift of liberation has irreparably faltered. At this hour of citizens’ need, for him to listen to his people would be a sign that he still retained a deep respect for them.  A leader who is also a democrat will listen to his/her people.  And if he is of good conscience, then he would not flee into exile.

The people of South Africa are more than the sum of the political parties or the range of institutions they may belong to. Each person, be it a cabinet minister, a civil servant, a politician, a traditional leader, a student, and teacher, an academic, a law enforcement offficer, a lawyer, a priest, a worker in industries and farms, a priest, a doctor and nurse, a musician, dancer, artist, and writer, each and everyone of them, is a constitutional citizen of the Republic of South Africa. It is this membership that solemnly unites them. In that unity under our Constitution is the universe of their collective authority, the source of their moral and ethical order.

The Preamble to our constitution is worth recalling.

“We the people of South Africa

Recognize the injustices of the past

Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land

Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country, and

Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to-

Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;

Lay the foundations for a democratic open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;

Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person, and

Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations”

Our work at the Foundation is inspired by this solemn preamble. We realize that South Africans cannot heal the divisions and wounds of the past by creating new ones for the future.

The means of creating the future are as important as the future we have imagined for so long, and continue to this day to imagine.

We believe that we should all endeavour and learn to justify our actions against the future. Inability to do that leaves us hostage to the past. Each citizen has a greater chance to realize their potential by tapping on the immense promise of the future for which we have worked so hard.

Justifying oneself against the past allows for some to claim, even through nefarious means such as have brought us to our current crisis, that they are retrieving their just returns. They cannot be just for as long as they are destroying possibilities for a future for millions of our people. When systems collapse as a result of unjust actions even illegal retrieval ultimately becomes impossible. The virus that kills its host dies with it.

Believing in the systems of democracy allows us to be resolute within those systems. This perspective enables us to appreciate clearly what is at stake and what needs to be done. We will know that it is not enough simply to change “the leader”.  What is required to save and protect the Republic and restore its dignity is the uprooting of the self-serving networks that have been created and which could continue to wreak havoc in our country.

This should remind us that our Constitution is inspirational, but also calls on us to aspire to its ideals through committed and rigorous effort. It is a commitment and rigour that are essential requirements of each and every organ of government.

The very notion of government in a country that emerged out of determined struggle is founded on a duty of the deepest care, of tireless aspiration, of imagination, where citizens take pride in working together, lifting one another up for the greatest common good.

We understand as Madiba’s Foundation that holding to the vision of the Constitution requires a great deal of time and unrelenting work.   South Africans in their numbers are once more rising to the challenge.  We applaud the growing groundswell of resistance to the betrayal of the vision enshrined in our Constitution as well as the work being done to make the vision a reality.

We must also all take responsibility for reimagining the future. If the future is to belong to South Africans who respect the Constitution and are committed to making it a lived reality for all who live in the country, then all of us need to tool our work in support of our collective intention.

It is for these reasons that the Nelson Mandela Foundation is resolutely opposed to the ongoing onslaught on the Constitution of the Republic and the weakening of institutions of democracy embodied in it and designed to achieve its solemn objectives.

We support the urgent establishment of a judicial commission of enquiry to expose state capture in all its forms. We urge South Africans to be vigilant against what can only be called a capturing of democracy itself. We must use the instruments of our constitutional democracy to remove leaders and their networks which are implementing such capture. And we must take responsibility for making our country what we deeply desire it to be.

To recall the Preamble to our constitution:

May God protect our people.

Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika.

Morena boluka setjhaba sa heso.

God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.

Mudzimu fhatushedza Afurika.

Hosi katekisa Africa