Work for a country that we want

2018-01-28 06:01
Thuli Madonsela

Thuli Madonsela

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

The election of ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa seems to have inspired hope in South Africa, across the continent and beyond. When I penned this column, the rand was trading at R11.45 to the dollar and doing considerably well against the pula, the pound and the euro.

My joy at the rand’s remarkable rebound is only dampened by the fact that it comes a year too late – I desperately needed a strong rand when I was paying for my upkeep at Harvard last year, when it kept sliding.

But, seriously, can one person alone provide answers to our country’s numerous challenges? Specifically, can the change of guard in the governing party be a silver bullet to cure the challenges of extreme poverty and inequality, corruption, a troubled education system and a health system unable cope with the most basic of health service needs in a severely fractured nation?

It is true that, just as the temperature of a body is set in the head, the culture, behaviour and fate of an organisation or country depends on the thinking and behaviour of its top leadership.

But you must agree that the trajectory of our democracy and pace of its march to the constitutional dream need more than a change in the leadership of the ANC. Former president Nelson Mandela, whose centenary we celebrate globally this year, once said: “Even the most benevolent of governments have within them propensities for human failings …”

He said that was why we had built into the architecture of our constitutional democracy innovative, independent institutions, such as the office of the Public Protector and the Constitutional Court, to strengthen constitutional democracy through public accountability.

To successfully march forward as we build the South Africa of our dreams at a speed that will inspire more hope, particularly among those left behind, we need more than good leadership in government. We need to have every South African engaged in building a country in which they want to live.

The essence of my message to new law students at their welcome event at Stellenbosch University on January 24 was that it is our time to step up and lead. My address was part of an innovative one-week event the university holds for new law students.

The purpose is to give the students a sound foundation for their journey to becoming lawyers. The grounding includes ensuring that, by the time they complete their degrees, they meet the standard of a fit and proper person as required by the Legal Practice Act and other branches of the noble profession.

You may be curious about the term “noble profession”. You might even know a few lawyers who certainly cannot be defined as noble. Incidentally, when I was young, my pastor might have been exposed to too many crooked lawyers because he thought that, as a good Christian, I shouldn’t study law.

The reality is that, to be admitted as a legal practitioner, you must be honourable, and you must be a fit and proper person. The same is required to stay in this critical profession, which shapes democracy enormously by drafting laws and constitutions, as judges are the ultimate guardians of the Constitution.

I have a fond memory of the snaking queue comprising more than 250 students patiently and eagerly approaching the dean of law at Stellenbosch University, Professor Nicola Smit, and me to submit their pledges, similar to the Hippocratic Oath for doctors, and collect their special copies of the Constitution.

The pledge, a copy of which is embedded in the Constitution given to the students, is part of measures seeking to help and shape them to become active builders and exemplary citizens of Stellenbosch University and the South Africa in which they want to live. The student lawyer’s pledge reads, in part, as follows:

“I undertake to respect the Constitution and the laws of South Africa, to uphold and critically develop its legal system. I recognise the injustices of our past and I shall work to build and develop our country through my belief that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united and equal in our diversity … As a jurist, I shall personify faultless honesty, maintaining the highest standards of integrity and shall strive to act objectively, fairly and without fear or bias …”

I wonder if we should not have a similar pledge for all South Africans – and the world – in honour of Mandela’s centenary and the global quest for a better world. It should certainly be compulsory for government employees in the light of section 195 of the Constitution.

One thing is for sure – our country needs us all to step up and lead for social justice, integrity and all that is good. We certainly cannot hang all our hopes on one person or a change of leadership. The governing party has opened a window of opportunity. It’s our time to step up and lead for the South Africa and a world in which we want to live.

Madonsela is professor and chairperson of social justice at Stellenbosch University and founder of the Thuma Foundation.She is also the former public protector.

Read more on:    thuli madonsela  |  constitution

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

Sales Representative- Knysna

George - Knysna
George Employment Consultants
R15 000.00 Per Month Per Month

Audit Senior / Bookkeeper to Trial Balance

Cape Town Southern Suburbs
Placement Point (Pty) Ltd
R15 000.00 - R21 000.00 Per Month

Key Accounts - IT

Southern Shore Recruitment
R15 000.00 - R25 000.00 Per Month

Property [change area]

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.