DISCUSSION LED BY CHIEF JUSTICE MOGOENG MOGOENG ON BROADENING AND DEEPENING CITIZENS’ KNOWLEDGE OF SOUTH AFRICA’S CONSTITUTION
REMARKS BY PRINCE MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEHZI MP
SIGNATORY TO THE ACTIVE CITIZENS’ CHARTER AND PRESIDENT EMERITUS OF THE INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY
Country Club Johannesburg: 26 September 2019
‘Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, Mr James Motlatsi, Mr Bobby Godsell, active citizens.
It is in meetings like this, in country clubs and boardrooms, where conversations are held that change the world. lt may seem that we are far removed frorn the everyday struggle of the ordinary citizen, for if we are able to dine here we are indeed part of the elite. But in truth we are here, gathered in this room, because we understand the struggle of our citizens, because it concerns us deeply, because it keeps us up at night and prompts us to do rnore, say rnore, think more and listen more. Because we are not complacent towards our country’s hardship, and we refuse to become complicit.
I rnust thank Mr Motlatsi and Mr Godsell for convening this discussion, and I certainty thank our Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court for leading it so ably. I studied law almost seventy years ago, and my detractors like to call me the most litigious politician in South Africa. But it’s good to be in the hands of a professional. There is no one better equipped to speak to us about the Constitution than Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
Five years ago, when my Advisor, Dr Mario Oriani-Arnbrosini, passed away, Chief Justice Mogoeng spoke glowingly about how Dr Ambrosini had engaged with South Africa’s Constitution. He was a world-class constitutional lawyer who could have worked anywhere. But he was fascinated by our transition to democracy and the possibilities it opened to design a great constitution.
And our Constitution is indeed great. Of course, I would have liked it to go further with the notion of subsidiarity. But it enshrines provinces, which is a win. When I speak today about the negotiations that brought forth our Constitution; when I speak about federalism, and about the form of state, most south Africans have little to draw on to sustain the conversation. ln fact, when I talk about the constitution at all, there are few ordinary citizens who can engage beyond the concept of human rights. And even they do not know that it was the IFP that insisted on the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in our constitution. The ANC’s approach was that a government of the majority would never trample on human rights, so it wasn’t even necessary to mention it’ But I have always believed in checks and balances. No matter how good our intentions, governance and politics have a way of pitting opposing forces against one another, and often both sides seem rightl
I rnust commend our Chief Justice for the difficult decisions he has had to take; for having the courage to take them. At times he must feel like King Solornon, recommending that the baby be cut in half. lt is only when someone has the courage to put a suggestion on the table that motives are truly revealed. We have many contentious debates in our society. From corporal punishment of children in the home, to whether foreign nationals should be allowed into our country’ we are even divided – believe it or not – on whether husbands have a right to beat their wives. ln many cases, views and opinions are not shaped by the constitution.Yet to a large extent, they should be. We need to hold our Constitution as central, as a starting point and a foundational statement of belief. lt is our common point of departure and every conversation around social and economic justice should refer back to the Constitution regularly, lest we lose sight of the values South Africa was built on.
I agree, therefore, that it is of paramount importance that we deepen and broaden our citizens’ knowledge of the Constitution. That is done through debate, in a variety of forums, frorn the classroom to radio, to the newspapers and Twitter. lt is done through colloquiums and symposiums, and through casual conversations with people we come in contact with, even for a bnef amount of time.
It may not seem like the world’s best ice-breaker to begin a conversation by asking: “Did you know that a written decision by the President must be countersigned by another cabinet rnember if that decision concerns a function assigned to that other Cabinet member?”
I find it best to start with everyone’s favourite: the Bill of Rights. But I make sure that the conversation becomes personal, because only when something affects us directly do we really pay attention. We need to get citizens thinking about why we do, what we do and say, what we say in a democratic country. And why some of the things that are said and done are not consistent with our constitution.
This is an important conversation, I am glad it has started with us.