Douglas Gibson: Lesufi should read the Constitution of South Africa

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MEC of Gauteng Education Panyaza Lesufi.
MEC of Gauteng Education Panyaza Lesufi.

We cannot leave it to Afrikaans-speakers to fight alone. All those who value what the new South Africa represents need to stand together in defence of the Constitution, writes Douglas Gibson.

I feel a little sorry for Panyaza Lesufi. He, like poor old Carl Niehaus, wants to carry on dining at the apartheid table forever. They have failed to catch up with the new South Africa.  

Our country is a constitutional democracy, not some sort of socialist paradise. In a liberal democratic dispensation such as ours, people enjoy what is known as freedom.  Freedom means that citizens choose, within the law and the Constitution, what suits them and their families. It does not mean that bureaucrats and politicians like Lesufi are their bosses. It is only in places like Venezuela and Cuba, so loved by the ANC, that the people are subservient.

Our Constitution has been praised around the world because it is modern, liberal, human-rights oriented and a complete break with our dark past. As someone who helped write the Constitution, I invite Lesufi to read it and if he fails to understand it, he should feel free to contact me.

The most important founding value is "human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms".

OPINION | Panyaza Lesufi: A language-based university is anathema to our society and a disgrace to our Constitution

The Constitution does not say that Afrikaners and Afrikaans-speakers enjoy a lesser form of citizenship because of their language or their colour or their culture or because some of them – or even many of them – more than a generation ago and long before that, voted for the apartheid government, or because Lesufi does not like their language. What it does say, is, "Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law."

It does not say that one of our languages is nasty and racist; or that its culture is horrible. It provides quite clearly that people are entitled to protect their language. It does not state that all the languages except Afrikaans enjoy rights. It certainly does not state that Afrikaans is a racist no-no. Incidentally, the Constitution also does not state that because many English-speaking people voted for apartheid, their language is verboten.

The Constitution states: "Everyone has the right to establish and maintain, at their own expense, independent educational institutions that –

(a)   "do not discriminate on the basis of race;

(b)  "are registered with the state; and

(c)   "maintain standards that are not inferior to standards at comparable public educational institutions…"

Lesufi has obviously not yet read the Constitution of South Africa. If he had, he would be aware that the people busy establishing a private college that will use Afrikaans as its medium of instruction are acting perfectly legally and reasonably in terms of their rights so specifically detailed in the Constitution. To denigrate them as racists is really just too much. 

I am English-speaking and I spent two generations being involved with both state and private schools (and fighting against discrimination). I know discrimination when I see it. I also know when fair is fair and decent Afrikaans speakers being vilified by this politician really sticks in the crop.

I am very proud of the Constitution because it protects us against Lesufi and his friends. It preserves our rights and freedoms and defines them so that there cannot be a misunderstanding. When the government, or the province or the municipalities become too mighty, the courts have the task of interpreting the Constitution and coming to the aid of citizens. 

It is for this reason that Lesufi got a bloody nose from the court when he tried to force an Afrikaans medium school to accept a few pupils who wanted to study in English ( most, if not all of them not home language English speakers) when there were many vacant places at English-medium schools nearby.

His aim was clearly to interfere with an Afrikaans medium school that worked, pretending then that this was not an anti-Afrikaans move, motivated by his clear dislike of Afrikaans and Afrikaners.

If Lesufi's line of reasoning is followed, then Jewish parents would not be able to establish and maintain Jewish schools. Is this his plan? And what of Muslim parents? If they want to have religious education for their children, is this a form of Apartheid?  What about Anglicans? Some of the most famous - and dare one say it - the best schools in South Africa – are Anglican private schools; if Lesufi's logic is followed, they and the other religious schools would be described as anathema and as being Apartheid institutions.

My profound conviction is that we must wake up to the insidious slide away from the timeless values of our Constitution; people have to stand up to the Lesufis of South Africa. They undermine the settlement we arrived at as a nation. We must not, and cannot leave it to Afrikaans-speakers to fight alone. All those who value what the new South Africa represents, irrespective of their own home language, race or religion, need to stand together in defence of the Constitution. If we allow the bigots and the racists to take over, that will be the end of the magnificent endeavour to create a successful, working constitutional democracy in Africa. 

- Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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