Asmal: How shall we honour this Titan?

2011-06-25 10:30

Kader Asmal, had he lived another two days, would be chortling with glee as he often did. Parliament’s ­ad-hoc committee, which is processing pernicious secrecy legislation, seemed to have to come to its senses on Friday.

Chairperson Llewellyn Landers announced a slate of changes which deal with the key criticisms of the Protection of Information Bill.

The power to classify state information has been limited, the mandatory jail sentence for possession has been dropped and the committee has stated, ­explicitly, that it will ensure the draft law’s ­constitutionality before its passage.

For Asmal, who on June 16 declared the bill to be a fatally flawed abomination, the changes are a victory and the sweetest possible epitaph. Asmal was the ultimate constitutionalist as his numerous obituaries have noted.

All his positions and values were viewed in relation to the Constitution, a ­document he played no small role in ­crafting.

His belief in the rule of law was laced ­into his DNA – it’s well known now that the reason he did not take a seat in Parliament was because he could not see himself signalling an “aye” when the law to dissolve the Scorpions was passed.

Those who have watched him since he left one political stage in 2008 and took to another will know that he was often aghast at how the ANC has ushered in an age of impunity where the law is often made to be an ass.

Examples include: the decision to throw out corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma before he took high office, the axing of the former national director of public prosecutions Vusi ­Pikoli, the extension of Chief Justice Sandile ­Ngcobo’s term, and the decision to close investigations into the arms deal even though evidence of hard bribery is now emerging almost daily.

To honour the Titan would be to return to constitutionalism as the sine qua non of public life, as Parliament did this week when it altered the Protection of Information Bill for the better.

The securocrats who seem to run so much of life in our country were beaten back by the constitutionalists made in Asmal’s mould. And this pattern must continue.

To honour the Titan would be to finally institute a judicial commission of inquiry and shoot the elephant in the room of our public life. The arms deal has harmed us.

It is like a blot that stains what this nation might become. For too long, it has been a skeleton rattling in the closet.

As our council of elders who first fought for and shaped the democracy depart, it is the role of the next generation to ensure that the values they put into the foundation of the country are ­sustained; that we build instead of break.

That is the most fitting headstone to raise to a fine soldier.

Hamba kahle, Prof, you lived a good life.

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