We deserve the president we have because we made this mess

2014-09-03 06:45

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We, the people of South Africa, are an enigma. We have labelled ourselves the “Rainbow Nation”, yet we are neither a nation nor anything resembling a rainbow. In truth, we are a rag-tag collective of ethnic individuals and ideologues.

We have also been styled “a miracle”. Well, there may be some truth in that. Our President seems to spend more time defending himself in the courts than delivering on his party’s numerous election promises of 2009. Yet we brought him back to the Union Buildings to continue in the same vein for another five years.

But the greatest miracle of all is that we, the people, stood inertly by and watched the spectacular emasculation of our Constitution and its fabled values and principles when the ruling party (or a small faction in it) “recalled” a sitting president.

Suddenly, with that abracadabra in September 2008, a new category of ground for the removal of a sitting president was introduced into our constitutional lexicon – a “recall”.

From that moment on, the rule of law lost its halo, and the Constitution took on the role of an embarrassing family relative that is only to be tolerated. We, the people, looked on, shrugged, and went about with our daily routine.

From that civil inertia, our current president (and his loud faction) took heart, almost like a badger that has accidentally drawn blood from a vicious beast it would otherwise not have dared to challenge.

And so more excesses were to come – the next one bigger than that immediately preceding it. And, by Jove, did they come!

These excesses are well documented and I shan’t chronicle them here. But the one that has moved me, despite myself, to speak out is the president’s “response” (if one may take liberties with the English language) to the Public Protector’s report on his Nkandla private residence.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s office is given authority by the Constitution, but that didn’t convince the president to cede to her findings in her report on Nkandla.
Picture: Lerato Maduna

Having been required by the Office of the Public Protector (an institution that is founded under, and exercises powers in terms of, the Constitution) to respond to the report within a prescribed period, the President failed to do so.

He preferred first to hear what another institution (the Special Investigating Unit that is not founded under the Constitution and has no constitutional powers whatsoever) had to say on the matter.

Then the President missed his own deadline.

When he did eventually submit to Parliament, what we, the people, expected to be a fulsome response – so that we could all get on with our lives secure in the knowledge that the Public Protector had got it all wrong – the President expressly refused to respond and said his own “report” is “not a critique of the [Public Protector’s] report?…?The fact that I restate or offer no comment on [among other things] any interpretation of the law, the evaluation of evidence, the analysis, findings and conclusions reached, and/or the recommendations and remedial action proposed [by the Public Protector] is not reflective of the fact that I am accepting of the same”.

Huh? I read that paragraph 7 of the president’s “report” countless times and asked others to read it, just in case my eyes were deceiving me.

The meaning is clear. The president told Parliament he will not respond to the Public Protector’s report. Then he tasked his own newly minted minister to decide whether he was liable to pay back the money as directed by the Public Protector!

Surely he and his lawyers must know that a minister’s view cannot trump the Public Protector’s findings? The Constitutional Court has ruled on numerous occasions that a decision maker may exercise no power and perform no function except as conferred on it by law.

By that conduct, the president has once again spurned the rule of law and the Constitution, and shown the middle finger to us, the people who vote religiously for the ANC, believing (despite mounting evidence to the contrary) that the president is a man of character who is determined to serve all South Africans according to their needs, and that he is simply misunderstood and his efforts unappreciated.

Some of us still believe this but it’s self-deception. It was in September 2008 that we, the people, allowed matters to come to this.

Our Constitution says there are only three grounds for removing a president: serious violation of the Constitution or the law, serious misconduct or an inability to perform the functions of presidential office.

If a president is removed for violating the Constitution or the law, or for serious misconduct, he or she forfeits all the benefits of the office and may never again hold public office. I suspect that was the clincher that was used to get rid of our former president.

The ANC in 2008 had more than two-thirds majority representation in the National Assembly (at 69.69%) and so could easily have divined some “serious misconduct” and tossed out the president without any hope of a presidential pension and other post-presidential fruits of that office.

So, with what appears suspiciously like blackmail, the rule of law and the Constitution were sacrificed. We did nothing except whisper in the dark. Because of that, you can be sure we haven’t seen the last of executive excess.

Having now tasted the bitter fruits of civil inertia, only decisive civil action will turn things around. But who am I kidding? With everyone running scared in the name of self-preservation, we deserve the president we have.

» Ngalwana is a deeply concerned patriot and ANC supporter

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