Free housing, food or education not promised in Constitution - Albie Sachs

Albie Sachs (Picture: GCIS)
Albie Sachs (Picture: GCIS)

Johannesburg - Nowhere in the Constitution is free housing, food or education promised, retired Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs said on Wednesday.

"A constitution doesn't give you a house, it doesn't give you food, it doesn't give you education. It's never been the promise of the Constitution and it's not the duty of the Constitution," Sachs said.

He was giving a keynote address at the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities' discussion on Chapter 9 institutions in Johannesburg.

"The Constitution is not a Housing Act, it's not an Education Act, it's not a Nourishment Act. The Constitution deals with rights, mechanisms, procedures and what we did when we fought for this Constitution."

Sachs was responding to a question from a member of the audience about his thoughts on South Africans who felt the Constitution did nothing for them because they could not see any tangible difference in their lives.

He said during the drafting of the Constitution, the assumption the drafters adopted was that South Africa was an unjust society which needed changing.

Important issues

"Our Constitution presupposes a need for change and the powers granted by the Constitution have to be exercised to prevent destabilisation. We had to destabilise a very unjust status quo.

"Constitutions aim at perfectibility, but acknowledge corruptibility..."

Sachs also praised the Fees Must Fall movement for raising important issues that needed to be addressed.

"They are saying the culture, the atmosphere, the habits... White domination doesn't disappear in daily life just because it's gone in constitutional terms. I think it's fantastic that they're raising those issues."

Although the students had brought the higher education sector into a temporary conflict zone, the country could handle it, he said.

"My sense is our institutions are strong enough to contain the turmoil and to benefit from the idealism and the passion and the questioning and sometimes the very beautiful language that the young people are using," Sachs said.

No need for violence

He said ultimately, the students would figure out among themselves what true leadership was as well as when and what to settle on in order to move to the next stage.

"They will work it out basically among themselves," he said.

The rights of those who wanted to return to class should be respected, he said. However, this did not mean society should "turn a deaf ear to the claims of those who feel 'we want more, we want it quicker'".

He cautioned students against the use of violence during the protests as had been the pattern before democracy.

"This time around we have rights, we don't have to resort to violence."

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