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Opinionista

Democracy is not an endpoint

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In real life, Professor Balthazar is one of South Africa’s foremost legal minds. He chooses to remain anonymous, so it doesn’t interfere with his daily duties.

As the country slowly emerges from the heavy cloud of the Covid-19 pandemic, the focus must finally hone in on how South Africa is to recover its economy. Apart from the obvious, being the implementation of the illusive plan to ensure growth and a reversal of the 8% decline in GDP, the constitutional health of the country needs an urgent vaccine.

 

Three instances must suffice for one column to illustrate that the country’s constitutional democracy is in the intensive care unit.

Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa generated an unusual and indeed very brave letter to the members of the ruling party in which he called for an end to corruption and recommended a series of measures that had to be taken to purge the stench of corruption from the ruling party. Almost immediately he was attacked by members of his own party, including his predecessor, who sought to invoke Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Govan Mbeki, to suggest that the Ramaphosa letter was a betrayal of their sacrifices. As if these giants of the struggle fought for the establishment of a government of rent-seekers and a governing party that was little concerned with the theft of public money that should have been used for the betterment of the lives of millions of South Africans who continue to eke out the most precarious existence! 

If, as it is suggested that the problem is but a few rotten apples in the ANC basket, then surely a comprehensive lifestyle audit of all office-bearers of political parties and public representatives would be no more than a trifling inconvenience for the vast majority, including those who oppose the steps proposed by the president.

Let us not forget that it has been estimated that the Guptas alone benefited by some R100-billion of public money and it is clear that they were not the only beneficiaries. But so long as there is no national consensus that rent-seeking should have the sole consequence of being placed behind bars after a conviction, the corruption will continue and only the rent-seekers will benefit.

One may add that the consensus against corruption is a necessary requirement to end the scourge, but a competent NPA is a further key consideration. That senior members of the NPA, who were responsible for a range of disgraceful actions including the charging of Pravin Gordhan on less then a fig leaf of legal justification, are still in office is in and of itself testimony to the lack of progress in the reconstruction of the NPA. That rumours abound of lack of support for those trying to turn the prosecutorial spotlight on a myriad of alleged crooks is even more depressing. Thus, even if the president garners the support of the majority of his party for “operation clean-up”, the NPA will have to finally do more than hold press briefings promising action.

That brings this column to the second issue – the office of the public protector. For the second time, the Constitutional Court has affirmed a punitive cost order against the public protector. Remember that the high court had made a punitive cost order against the public protector after finding that she had been derelict in her duty in investigating the Estina Dairy case which, it so happens, is alleged to involve prominent political figures. By refusing her leave to appeal the cost order, the Constitutional Court has, in effect, confirmed the findings of dereliction of duty. Given the litigation that the public protector has launched to declare illegal the parliamentary procedures to consider her removal, the saga has some way to run. But to be clear: the office of the public protector can be a major bulwark against corrupt activities in the public sector. But that requires a public protector who is not found on two occasions by the highest court in the land to be derelict in her duty and less than candid with the court.

And finally, and most depressing of all, is the death of 16-year-old Nathaniel Julies, allegedly shot by police in Eldorado Park. What kind of country kills a 16-year-old child suffering from Down Syndrome?

Coming a short while after the murder of Collins Khosa, the question arises: do we not care about black lives in this country? Are we so immune from the multitude of murders that take place every year that, unlike in the US, we do not march, we do not protest and few consequences flow from the violence of the institution that is mandated to protect the citizenry of the country?

Where are now the voices who, correctly, called out the universities for their Eurocentric perspectives? Where are now the voices who correctly criticise the myriad of economic policies that perpetuate inequality in the country? Do those slain at the hands of the security forces, like Khosa and Julies, not count? Do their lives not matter? Ironically, unlike the US, we are not led by a racist, misogynist, yet we appear to care so little when our protests could have an even greater effect than in the Land of the Free where Donald Trump simply reacts with more racism.

And if we do not care, it will not be long before the total corruption of our institutions is complete, the efforts of the president notwithstanding. Democracy is not an endpoint. It has to be continuously protected and promoted. We, the people as well as the institutions that are constitutionally mandated to protect democracy are failing lamentably. DM

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