Advocate George Bizos is known for speaking his mind, a trend that continues in his old age as he takes to defending the Constitution and the courts. For that alone, one needs a bucket of courage nowadays. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.
It’s probably not the first time the man who will forever be famous as the lawyer who defended Nelson Mandela came up for the courts.
George Bizos knows his story too well and is no lightweight.
In recent times there has been a storm again over whether courts, unelected and still dominated by white male judges, have the right to overrule the executive and the legislature when it came to political decisions and legislation.
Additionally, ANC politicians as well as freedom of speech commentators have recently been sharply critical about a court’s decision to interdict the singing of a certain freedom song.
Youth leaders like Julius Malema, disgruntled about the lack of progress in the fight against poverty and landlessness, have also in recent times called for amendments to the Constitution to speed up land reform.
Enter Bizos, addressing a thinkers’ symposium organised by academic organisation Golden Key at Wits, and put it straight to the largely student audience: “Please don’t blame the Constitution for our problems. There is nothing wrong with the Constitution.”
It was something 85% of MPs voted in favour of, while the IFP opposed because it had wanted a federal system.
“The idea that the Constitution is too liberal or that it was put together by a bunch of lawyers in dark rooms in various hotels is just not true.”
It promises education and housing, and it’s the political leaders who failed to implement it, Bizos said.
South Africa averted “a racial civil war” and we needed the courts to avert bloodshed by ruling on disputes.
Bizos also defended the separation of powers, saying politicians could not claim that courts had no right to exist because they weren’t elected. “They are the third tier of the state. The tiers have to show respect for each other,” he said.
This went for government implementing the decisions of courts, and courts being sensitive to policy-making processes in government. DM
"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall