'South Africans are in despair': Barney Pityana begs govt to uphold the law, bring benefit to citizens

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Professor Barney Pityana.
Professor Barney Pityana.
  • Professor Barney Pityana says the government is failing citizens in its inability to govern in a manner that upholds the Constitution. 
  • Pityana says the country has a "problem with governance and government". 
  • He was speaking at a conference on the Constitution under the theme Reflections and the Road Ahead.

Professor Barney Pityana says South Africa has a "problem of governance and government", and as a result, there is a high level of unemployment, poverty and food insecurity. 

Pityana, who is the chairperson of the National Lotteries Commission, was speaking at a national conference on the Constitution in Midrand on Wednesday.

The theme of the conference was Reflections and the Road Ahead and Pityana was part of a panel that reflected on the implementation of the Constitution.

South Africans needed to be governed fairly, but so far, the government seemed to be failing the people because of its inability or lack of capacity to govern in a manner that would uphold the Constitution, said Pityana who joined the panel virtually.

"That is why the police are not able to do their work; that is why immigration is at the level that it is with high numbers of undocumented people in the country.

"There [are] also high levels of unemployment and poverty and food insecurity, so clearly there is a crisis of governance and government. Something is just not happening." 

Pityana added: 

I think the issue of whether our Constitution is the best in the world is an academic issue. It is neither here nor there. We have a Constitution; it has value by itself, but the important thing is that we need to ensure that our government governs and not be invisible and powerless. It is my sincere appeal to the government to uphold the law, to enforce the law, to bring benefit to the people [who] need them.

He also said he had an impression that the state was "invisible".

"One senses that governance in our country is weak. The police are weak, [and] are unable to enforce law and order. That rule of law is just not able to bring about obedience and faith in the system. "We have former president [Jacob Zuma] who has been in and out of the courts for nothing less than 10 years or so. For me ... it is [an] affirmation of a state that is unable to enforce the law." Pityana said the country could do better, adding:

I think right now, South Africans are in despair. They are very cynical about our Constitution. I think even members of Parliament and ministers, from reports I am reading, are very cynical; they are not really committed to the constitutionalism that we are talking about and for that reason, we have a high hill to climb.

Meanwhile, the University of Venda's chancellor, advocate Mojanku Gumbi, believes there is a "problem" with the Constitution. 

She said the country doesn’t have proper whistleblower protection because the government had failed to put that in place.

"But who is supposed to make sure that that government does it? Who oversees the government's work? It's Parliament, and they don't do it, and that is why I say there is a problem with the Constitution because it is the Constitution which created that system that says the government is accountable to Parliament but created a Parliament that is beholden to political leadership.

"It is the Constitution that created that electoral system that we have, so there is a problem with the Constitution," she said.

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