To call Mandela a saint is to dishonour his memory
- Pierre de Vos
- 06 Dec 2013 10:10 (South Africa)
Nelson Mandela was first and foremost one of the greatest if not the greatest leader the ANC ever had. Much of what he did during his life he did in the name of the ANC. This was probably his greatest source of strength.
He was loyal to a fault, writing President Jacob Zuma a R1 million cheque a few days after Zuma was fired as Deputy President. This he did despite the fact that a few weeks earlier a court had found that Zuma’s “financial advisor”, Schabir Shaik, had solicited a bribe from an arms company on Zuma’s behalf and had also paid Zuma more than R1 million to ensure that Zuma would use his political clout to do favours for him in return. In this case Mandela’s loyalty to Zuma (and to the ANC) seemed to have trumped his disgust of corruption and nepotism.
Recognising this should not diminish him in our esteem. Instead it should remind us that he was somebody far more interesting and human than a saint. It is exactly because he was very human that his exceptional qualities come into focus so sharply.
As a politician he could be hard-nosed and steely. This often stood him in good stead. FW de Klerk found out that Mandela was not to be trifled with when Mandela responded to De Klerk's opening statement at Codesa in a manner that started shifting the balance of power between the two men and between the ANC and the NP. Ahmed Kathrada has said that this was only one of two times that he saw Mandela lose his temper. But even then, the steely resolve and reasoned but cutting response to De Klerk's callous remarks, did Mandela proud.
In that speech he said: “[De Klerk] has launched an attack on the African National Congress, and in doing so he has been less than frank. Even the head of an illegitimate, discredited, minority regime as his, has certain moral standards to uphold. He has no excuse, because he is a representative of a discredited regime, not to uphold moral standards. He has handled - and before I say so, let me say that no wonder the Conservative Party has made such a serious inroad into his power base. You understand why.
“If a man can come to a conference of this nature and play the type of politics which are contained in his paper, very few people would like to deal with such a man. We have handled the question of Umkhonto we Sizwe in a constructive manner. We pointed out that this is one of the issues we are discussing with the Government. We had bilateral discussions but in his paper, although I was with him, I was discussing with him until about 20h20 last night, he never even hinted that he was going to make this attack. The members of the Government persuaded us to allow them to speak last.
“They were very keen to say the last word here. It is now clear why they did so. And he has abused his position because he hoped that I would not reply. He was completely mistaken. I am replying now. We are still to have discussions with him if he wants, but he must forget that he can impose conditions on the African National Congress and, I daresay, on any one of the political organisations here.”
It was exactly because he was so principled and knew what he wanted that as President of the country he could also be remarkably humble and uncompromisingly principled. As President he displayed a majestic sense of right and wrong and an admirable respect for those who were not categorised as having the same race, sex, or sexual orientation than himself.
In this he embodied the principle, first enunciated by the Constitutional Court in the judgment that declared invalid the criminalisation of same-sex sodomy, that equality at the very least demands respect for people who are different from oneself and at best demands a celebration of those differences.
Nelson Mandela’s displayed an astonishing and unique respect for the post-apartheid judiciary. Given the fact that he spent 27 years in jail after being sentenced to life imprisonment by the apartheid judiciary, he might easily have harboured some suspicions against old and new order judges alike. Yet, he understood that the success of South Africa’s new democracy also depended on the very judiciary, which had previously enforced apartheid legislation, often with enthusiasm and without any regard for justice.
Speaking at the inauguration of the Constitutional Court in 1995, he said the following:
“The last time I appeared in court was to hear whether or not I was going to be sentenced to death. Fortunately for myself and my colleagues we were not. Today I rise not as an accused but, on behalf of behalf of the people of South Africa, to inaugurate a court South Africa has never had, a court on which hinges the future of our democracy.”
Mandela then continued:
“People come and people go. Customs, fashions, and preferences change. Yet the web of fundamental rights and justice which a nation proclaims, must not be broken. It is the task of this court to ensure that the values of freedom and equality which underlie our interim constitution - and which will surely be embodied in our final constitution - are nurtured and protected so that they may endure.”
Given his history, and given the respect he commanded across the political spectrum by the time he became President of South Africa, Mandela could easily have objected when unelected judges of the Constitutional Court first declared his actions unconstitutional and invalid.
But this he did not do. Instead, he embraced the principle of constitutional supremacy and set the Constitutional Court on the road to becoming one of the most respected, perhaps even revered, courts in the world.
This happened in 1995, only one year after the advent of the new Constitution, when the newly established Constitutional Court declared invalid a provision of the Local Government Transition Act. The impugned provision bestowed power on the President to amend that Act, which had been duly passed by Parliament. President Mandela had relied on this provision to amend the Act.
The New National Party government (who then governed the Western Cape Province) challenged the validity of President Mandela’s decision on various grounds, including on the basis that the provision in the Act on which President Mandela had relied was unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court found that the provision was indeed unconstitutionally because it breached the separation of powers doctrine as it handed over the power to enact legislation to the President while the Constitution reserved this power for Parliament.
After the Constitutional Court handed down this ruling, President Mandela appeared on television to affirm his respect for the power of the Court to declare his actions unconstitutional and invalid. He also affirmed that he would respect and obey the decision of the Court. After all, the power of the Constitutional Court to nullify decisions of the President that did not comply with the Constitution lay at the heart of our system of constitutional supremacy.
By affirming that it was necessary for the legislative and executive branches of government to respect and obey the decisions of the judiciary, Mandela confirmed respect for the principle of checks and balances built into the Constitution, making it difficult if not impossible for his successors to question the validity of unpopular court judgments.
It was even more remarkable when, a few years later, a judge of the High Court inappropriately compelled Mandela to testify in open court about the circumstances which led the President to appoint a Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of the South African Rugby Football Union, he complied without fanfare.
Despite being the President of the country and despite being Mandela, he agreed to testify and to be subjected to cross-examination. The Constitutional Court later criticised the High Court for subjecting the sitting President to cross examination, calling it an “unusual” decision with “far-reaching implications, particularly because of its impact on the question of separation of powers and the comity between different arms of the state.”
The Constitutional Court could not find any cases in foreign jurisdictions in which a head of state has been compelled to give oral evidence before a court in relation to the performance of official duties. Mandela might well have baulked at being ordered by a High Court judge to give oral evidence and to face cross-examination, but he did not.
Mandela was not a saint, but he could well be described as the patron saint of South Africa’s democratic order. By signaling – in both words and deeds – that he respected the system of judicial review and that he accepted the principle that the Constitution does and should limit the powers of the other branches of government, he demonstrated the insight and wisdom of a leader that only truly fortunate nations are ever blessed with. DM
- Freedom of hate speech? No, thanks.
- With Mbete and Modise not protecting the Parliament, who will protect our democracy?
- SONA2015: The legal side of the Moon
- SONA: Can the EFF be prevented from questioning the president?
- De Kock: The blood is not on his hands alone
- Xenophobia and the remnants of Apartheid: The terrible twosome
- The DA’s SMSes: Judgment Day, and its likely impact
- Freedom of Speech, Limited
- Turmoil at the Hawks: A birds eye view of the legalities
- The surrealism of Key Point secrecy
- The fight against corruption: In human hands alone
- Constitution is clear: President must answer questions in Parliament
- Nkandla and the National Assembly: Little more than a sideshow
- Tough luck, Mr Hofmeyr
- Death penalty: It’s not even the beginning of a solution
- The powers of the Public Protector: What the High Court actually found
- When some rights are more equal than others
- Afriforum, jou ma: Who’s likely to win the ‘Larney’ battle?
- Spy tapes: Still no reason to drop charges
- How now, Ad Hoc Nkandla Committee?
- The Speaker's dilemma
- The President’s reply to Public Protector: Why it won’t hold water
- Pistorius and dolus eventualis: do the facts support the finding?
- Affirmative action: It’s simpler than you think
- EFF vs. the National Assembly: Where to now?
- Nkandla: Zuma’s convoluted series of Houdini moves
- Nkandla: That drinking-thinking
- Women’s month, beyond lip service
- The multiplicity of freedom
- Home Affairs vs The Constitution
- Hlaudi weather: The fog is even thicker than it looks
- Wishful thinking: If the public protector were helped to do her job
- White, Afrikaans universities – when will they truly transform?
- NPA crisis: Open warfare was just the beginning
- Censoring Malema: Tempting, perhaps, but not legally valid
- Tlakula: Stark truth, stark choice
- The law vs. religion: Let’s try that again
- Evictions: 0 out of 10, SANRAL – try again
- Gay Cabinet ministers: So what’s the big deal?
- Rights and law: The untold, human stories
- Nkandla report in court: Zuma's interest above the law
- Democracy: let the real work begin
- May the Seventh be with You
- Critical thinking: the vital sign more important to democracy than your vote
- Elections: How can we level the playing field?
- Oscar’s ‘involuntary action’: Thin ice, Mr Pistorius
- That Nkandla SMS: Why the ANC won’t have its way in court
- The unbearable lightness of being a Nkandla Report critic
- Nkandla – unlawful to the last
- The president and Nkandla: No ignorance, no bliss
- The Public Protector’s Report: Who’s got the power and what is at stake?
- Why EFF election challenge would not fly
- Pistorius and that controversial Twitter ruling: questionable at best
- Uganda: why quiet diplomacy is a devastating betrayal of gay men and lesbians on the continent
- All hail independent thought
- Pistorius on TV: The public's interest vs. the public interest
- In the age of consent, the buck stops with Number One
- DA vs. ANC: The importance of political tolerance
- Campaign fever: the ground rules
- Let’s talk about freedom of speech
- DAgang's divorce: The finer sticking points
- Challenging IPID’s appointment: Always a bridesmaid, never a McBride
- Democratic internal party processes? Hmmm, unlikely.
- Why redress measures are not racist
- News flash, folks: discrimination IS illegal
- Water is life, but the struggle for it is deadly
- Changing the Constitution: much ado about nothing
- Mandela legacy: Reconciliation – a process, not a once-off event
- To call Mandela a saint is to dishonour his memory
- Love me tender: Why ‘it’s complicated’ applies to corrupt private tender processes too
- Nkandla report - the incontrovertible facts no smokescreens can cover
- The colonial roots of conferring silk on advocates
- Structural racism: the invisible evil
- E-toll civil disobedience reveals lack of respect for democracy
- We recognise sex and gender as classifications, so why not race?
- Nkandla Report blackout: It is all about PW Botha's law
- Elections are coming: Can we have some substance, please?
- The JSC: It’s not all bad, and here’s why
- The remembrance and forgetting of things past
- Nkandla: Untangling that rather sticky web
- Employment equity: the trick is in how it’s implemented
- Justice: that elusive prize, and how to get it
- Elections: The tightrope of fairness
- Teen sex: The law can’t replace parenting
- The Hlophe conundrum, revisited
- Khayelitsha policing: among the shambles and turf wars, it’s the residents who suffer
- Media freedom is a right that benefits all
- Attempts to discredit Madonsela could backfire
- The Mdluli matter: Nxasana’s first big test
- Sparing the rod: what it really entails
- Secrecy Bill: a touch more confusion, and a glimmer of hope
- Zuma's Secrecy Bill move: The Darker Side
- Hoffman’s complaint: why it was bound to fail
- Freedom of expression – and the quest for living meaningfully
- When a joke is not a joke
- The bad news: Qwelane’s constitutional challenge might just work
- Restoring the Electoral Commission: What happens next?
- A vote of no confidence is not to be taken lightly, by majority or minority
- The murky marriage of money and politics
- FF+ vs. EFF: doomed to fail
- Spy Tapes: A clear and simple case
- Hell is other people (trolling the Internet)
- Colour me irrational
- Women’s day – just another day for men to call the shots
- Arms Deal Commission: It’s the moment to make or break
- Marikana Commission: More questions than answers
- The court of individual identity
- Pius Langa: A man who knew the meaning of change
- Dear Film and Publications Board, please review your own rules
- Animal antics, and the separation of powers doctrine
- Hypocrisy fit for a king
- Take care with those ‘insults’
- ‘Top secret’ Nkandla report: On the highway to embarrassment
- Traditional leadership: Cat can look at a king
- Equal Education: The Minister doth protest too much
- Willing buyer, willing seller works… If you have a lifetime to wait
- Polygyny: Our human rights half-job
- Trial by media? Actually, that’s impossible
- Pistorius: The horror of a broken (white) body
- Oh what a tangled legal quagmire... when first we practise an NDPP to hire?
- Breytenbach: too little fear, favour and prejudice?
- The curious case of the pastor punished for honesty
- What’s that smell? Must be the name droppings.
- KZN University: A storm in a (Zulu) teacup
- Nkandla: The details will, and should, be made public
- Great speech vs. hate speech: how it really works
- Cape Town evictions: Brutal, inhumane, and totally unlawful
- The new, tamer Secrecy Bill: Still not constitutional
- Zuma and the Guptas: the ‘symbiosis’ continues
- Discrimination is illegal. When will we learn this?
- It’s not a democracy if our children aren’t equal
- An upside-down world: What would happen if we cared about the ‘others’?
- JSC: Let’s inject some common sense, shall we?
- Rose-tinted amnesia: The struggle to ‘rebrand’ SA’s Apartheid past
- Cardinal Napier: the plot thickens
- Redefining ‘merit’: first task for a transformed JSC
- The dating race
- Putting the ‘dread’ into ‘dreadlocks’
- Liars, damn liars, and the SA government
- Constitution clear on troops in the CAR: Zuma must talk to Parliament
- SA in CAR: the questions that remain
- Why are South African soldiers dying in CAR?
- Covering up sexual abuse is a crime, Cardinal
- Nkandla: Oh, what a tangled web we weave…
- The education MEC, children's heads, and a knobkerrie
- In black and white: the truth about ‘unconstitutional’ race quotas in universities
- Losing battles: Why the FMF doesn’t stand a chance
- Democracy vs. traditional leadership: the delicate ballet
- Police brutality comes as a surprise? Really?
- Sometimes a Tweeter is just a Twit
- Lady Justice’s scales appear to be faulty
- Pistorius trial: The legal principles that will decide the case
- Oscar Pistorius case: Bail isn’t denied as easily as you think
- Public opinion: Is there really any danger of prejudice against Oscar?
- All we know is that a woman is dead
- The secret history: Unearthing the mysterious Presidential Manual
- Sexwale abuse allegations: Very much our business
- SA’s rape epidemic: The limitations of outrage
- Will the real freedom of expression please stand up?
- But what of the people of Khayelitsha?
- WWE Smackdown: Zille vs. TNA edition
- Nkandla: Everything that's wrong with the Zuma government
- Nkandla: The spinning, mincing, dicing - and the report we're not allowed to read
- Beyond all (t)reason
- Judicial transformation: South Africa's appalling non-commitment
- The criminal stupidity of criminalising teen sex
- Careful, Mr Mthembu: The re-emergence of Apartheid's 'volksvreemdes' mentality
- Unequal education: the problem with providing learning for all
- SA troops in CAR: Why we should all be worried
- Mulholland column: Ignorance squared is still ignorance
- Elective processes: Something is rotten in the kingdom of the ANC
- Outa application: Courts can't fix political processes
- Chaskalson, SACP and the Constitution: Don’t touch me on my liberalism
- Carlisle and car key confiscation: Don't go with the (traffic) flow
- Dear Contralesa, please approach your nearest healer for a diagnosis
- Simelane: You can't end what never truly began
- Playing by the rules: The balancing act of Judge Dennis Davis
- Sunlight is the best disinfectant
- Lenasia: The haunting abandonment of humanity
- Lies, damn lies, and Zuma's 'bond'
- Show us the money, Mr Zuma
- The opposition doth protest too much: Why the ANC is hellbent on crushing debate
- Note to Zuma: Try commanding respect, not demanding it
- Dear Nxesi, your fantasy is damaging South Africa’s reality
- Running the Gauntlett: Why the struggle for appointment?
- Affirmative action: a decidedly middle-class problem
- Hate crime: there is no such thing as an excuse - ever
- Mfeketo and Zuma: You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours?
- Ramaphosa: Where does corruption begin and end?
- The Zuma recordings: SA is the crayfish, corruption the boiling water
- No safety in numbers: Why a bigger opposition isn't a stronger opposition
- Specs, lies and audiotape - the hidden Zuma recordings
- The ANC on school closures: can they win?
- Thuli Madonsela: The difference between 'unpopularity' and 'misconduct'
- Democracy: it starts in Parliament
- The National Key Points Act: not just unconstitutional, but totally invalid
- Simelane and 'rational' thought
- Halt the witch-hunt, Minister
- Home is where the taxpayer's money is
- Will Malema's case stand up in court?
- South Africa's Striking Miners: A Menace to Society? Or just to the middle class?
- E-tolling judgement: Sorry for Gauteng, but it's perfectly lawful
- Silence is golden - if the speakers are criticising the State
- Malema at the SANDF: Inappropriate? Yes. Illegal? No.
- Freedom of religion: not so free after all
- Whites against Woolworths: doth they protest too much?
- From the NPA with fear, favour - and prejudice
- Marikana murder charge withdrawal: the first glimmer of sanity
- Abuse, Inc: The 'miners made us do it' murder charge
- A marriage made in hell
- Lonmin's Farlam Commission: not bad, not bad at all
- Marikana: Avoidable, unconstitutional… and entirely predictable