Your freedom is your right

2010-10-17 10:11

Former chief justice Pius Langa has warned that South Africa’s Constitution, despite being the ­envy of the world, may not be “as safe as Fort Knox”.

Presenting the Dullah Omar ­memorial lecture at the University of the Western Cape last week, Langa also warned against a ­“minimalist approach” to the founding values of the Constitution.

This attitude, he said, “seeks ­always to see how many loopholes we can take advantage of, no ­matter who or what gets hurt, how many ill-gotten gains we can get away with”.

He also pointed out that respect for the rule of law in the ranks of political leaders was essential for good governance, the opposite of “those whose priority is personal power and wealth”.

And he warned South Africans not to let “anybody play with our freedom”.

The former chief justice’s lecture focused on the need to protect South Africa’s Constitution.

This, he declared, was the duty of all South Africans.

The efforts, labour and sacrifice of Omar, former justice minister and one of his old struggle comrades, Langa said, contributed to the fact that South Africa had a Constitution that was the envy of the word.

There was a time “when many in this country believed that the ­Constitution was as safe as Fort Knox, that there are sufficient guarantees and that as an ideal democratic ­society, we had ­nothing to fear, nothing to worry about”.

The theory was that South ­Africans had learned so much and suffered so much under colonial and apartheid rule that ­nothing could move or seduce them from their chosen course to full ­democracy and justice.

The euphoria, he said, existed in spite of the realities of South ­African life, in spite of the sad ­legacy of the past.

“That euphoria overlooked ­dangers posed by our own slowness or lack of movement as a society to bring about true equality and to bridge the wide gap between those who have and those who live on the margins of society in dire conditions of want.”

The euphoria failed to understand that while these inequalities and imbalances existed in society “true transformation and reconciliation will be that much more ­elusive”.

The Constitution, and the country, needed to be taken seriously.

“The love and commitment to our country should manifest in our enthusiasm to serve the country and its people,” he said.

It should also manifest in our ­refusal to be minimalist in our ­approach to the founding values of the Constitution.

South Africans should never forget, Langa said, that the ending of apartheid was never the sole objective of the South African project.

The objectives of the South African nation also included healing the divisions of the past, shaping a future founded on development opportunities for all South Africans and establishing a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.

To ensure that people – who ­offered so many sacrifices in struggle, so many deaths, hardships, ­imprisonments and detentions – were not bypassed in the process of government, Langa said, they needed to participate in democratic processes.

They also needed to guard the democracy and freedom they won in the struggle.

“We are, all of us, masters of our own fate and captains of our ­future,” Langa said.

South Africans might feel that they elected the best leaders with integrity and all the right ­attributes, said Langa, but “we dare not opt out of the imperative of vigilance”.

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