Calling on people

2016-04-05 06:00

IN the midst of the current economic, social and political chaos, South African society seems to plunging into despondency that nothing can be done to change the downwards spiral.

We have bad leaders, our economy is performing poorly and life is growing progressively difficult for most people.

The governing party appears to be impervious to the mounting scandals surrounding its senior-most leader.

We are consumed with bad news daily and witness helplessly as the political elite and their business connections loot the state and trample on the mandate they received from the electorate.

The events of the past few weeks, with the Gupta family being exposed as a powerful and controlling force behind President Jacob Zuma, have created an even greater atmosphere of helplessness that our sovereignty and the integrity of the state have been compromised.

The ANC has begun an internal investigation into the issue of state capture, which may or may not result in punitive action against those involved.

This week, our fortunes changed when the Constitutional Court handed down judgment on the Economic Freedom Fighters and Democratic Alliance applications to clarify the powers of the public protector. This resulted from Zuma’s non-compliance with the remedial action prescribed by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela in her March 2014 report on the security upgrades at the president’s Nkandla home.

Before the matter was heard in February, the president, through his legal team, finally conceded after almost two years that the public protector’s powers were binding and he would have to reimburse the state for a portion of the non-security upgrades at Nkandla.

That part of the Constitutional Court application was therefore academic.

What the court was left to pronounce on was whether Zuma and the National Assembly had breached the Constitution and the law in their treatment of Madonsela’s report.

The unanimous judgment by the 11 Constitutional Court judges proved to be a resounding victory for our democracy. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who read the judgment, told the president and the National Assembly very firmly what their responsibilities were. “Whoever and whatever poses a threat to our sovereignty, peace and prosperity he must fight. To him is the executive authority of the entire republic primarily entrusted,” Mogoeng said regarding the obligations of the president.

Regarding the National Assembly, Mogoeng said it is the “embodiment of the centuries-old dreams and legitimate aspirations of all our people”.

“It is the voice of all South Africans, especially the poor, the voiceless and the least remembered. It is the watchdog of state resources, the enforcer of fiscal discipline and cost-effectiveness for the common good of all our people.”

The judgment found that both Zuma and the National Assembly acted unlawfully and contrary to their constitutional responsibilities. At the beginning of the judgment, Mogoeng made a poignant comment, saying public office bearers ignore their constitutional obligations “at their peril”.

“This is so because constitutionalism, accountability and the rule of law constitute the sharp and mighty sword that stands ready to chop the ugly head of impunity off its stiffened neck.”

The Constitutional Court could not prescribe punitive action against the president and Parliament because of the doctrine of separation of powers. But the judgment showed us that our democracy is alive and well. The Constitution remains our guiding light and protection in these dark times, and the judiciary remains fiercely independent and critical.

The powers of the public protector have been affirmed — in Mogoeng’s words she is “one of the true crusaders and champions of anti-corruption and clean governance”.

Yes, we are stuck with a president who has lost his moral compass and a Parliament dominated by sycophants and apologists. We can no longer allow them to run amok with our democracy or rely on the ANC to rescue us from the era of impunity. It is time for society to play its part to ensure accountability and the rule of law. This is no time for despondency.

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