Opinionista Paul Hoffman 27 April 2021

Freedom isn’t free, it’s not a gift or an entitlement – it is a responsibility

It is the responsibility of the people to ensure that those who govern do so in a constitutionally compliant fashion. This responsibility does not involve a law degree, it involves using the machinery provided to exact accountability from those who govern. Wise use of the vote is required, not blind loyalty to those who loot.

Both in her contribution to the Defend Our Democracy virtual rally on Sunday, 18 April and again in her Daily Maverick interview with Janet Heard published on the following day, Professor Thuli Madonsela makes the point that the people of South Africa do not feel well served by their newfound democratic order.

It is true, most are not well served. Rampant corruption, failures in service delivery and incompetence rather than democracy are the true culprits for the disenchantment. The learned professor, advocate and former public protector highlights the plight of a poor Stellenbosch resident who confided in her:

“She said: ‘Now that we have this thing called democracy, that is not what we asked for. I don’t want democracy, I want the freedom that I fought for.’ ” The message from [Ms Palesa] Mosa, who remained poor and could not afford to properly educate her children, was clear: what pass laws achieved during apartheid was now achieved by poverty in democracy.”

The undeniable endemic poverty in SA is now largely attributable to the efforts of kleptocrats and looters who have managed in recent years to make the country more than a trillion rand worse off than it would have been if democracy had brought freedom instead of corruption. The stratagem of blaming apartheid for current ills becomes ever more threadbare as time passes. The ruins of Germany and Japan were repaired in less time than has passed since the demise of apartheid.

All over Africa, the struggle for freedom from the yoke of imperialism, colonialism and apartheid has somehow managed to morph into a struggle by “Big Men” for power over their fellow citizens. They seek opportunities to loot public purses and repurpose the states of Africa to their own nefarious agendas. The people’s struggle for freedom has itself transmuted into a struggle to keep at bay those intent upon enjoying their “turn to eat” rather than using public office, often corruptly attained, to serve the interests of the people in the spirit of ubuntu and batho pele.

It is instructive to examine the origins of the worldwide post-World War 2 desire for freedom. The ways and means adopted to achieve it after the United Nations (UN) was set up to ensure peace and security in the world hold lessons too.

One of the first projects of the UN was to draft and agree the terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The text was prepared by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world. The declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into more than 500 languages. The preamble of the declaration is a vivid reflection of the philosophy that motivated its adoption:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

“Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

“Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations, Corruption as a Human Rights Violation, 

“Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

“Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

“Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

“Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

It took South Africa some time to reach consensus on the notion that the foundation of freedom is the guarantee of universal and inalienable rights to all. The breakthrough came with the transition from parliamentary sovereignty under apartheid to constitutional democracy under the rule of law. The Bill of Rights, which is Chapter Two of the SA Constitution, obliges our state to “respect, protect, promote and fulfil” all of the rights set out in it. Our Bill of Rights goes far further than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in that it addresses local issues and includes socioeconomic rights not dreamt of in 1948.

The freedom for which many in SA still yearn does not happen automatically. It is not a gift, it is a hard-won responsibility of the people. The effective and efficient delivery of services that involve the rights to, for example, healthcare, housing, education, social security, water and food all have to be put in place by those who govern. They should so govern with a view to implementing the promises solemnly made in the Bill of Rights. Promises which, if fulfilled, would have the people of South Africa feeling free in their democracy.

It is the responsibility of the people to ensure that those who govern do so in a constitutionally compliant fashion. This responsibility does not involve a law degree, it involves using the machinery provided to exact accountability from those who govern. Wise use of the vote is required, not blind loyalty to those who loot. Reporting back by local, provincial and national public representatives must be insisted upon by those who elected their representatives to represent them. The Chapter Nine institutions must be inspanned vigorously by disaffected citizens who are participative and engaged in claiming their rights responsibly.

Complaints of human rights abuses and threats to human rights must go to the SA Human Rights Commission; complaints about maladministration to the Office of the Public Protector; the Auditor-General must be advised of financial irregularities as they occur; gender issues should be referred to the Gender Commission; and the Electoral Commission should be required to ensure that elections are free and fair, not a sham in which one party using purloined public funding outguns all other parties which do not have similar access to opportunities for malfeasance on so great a scale. The cultural, linguistic and religious freedoms of the people of SA have a protector in another of the institutions created to bed down constitutional democracy in SA.

Due to the legacy of our difficult history as a nation, the default position of ordinary citizens in SA is that of passive subjects of an authoritarian regime. In fact, ours should be a participatory democracy in which active citizenship to ensure responsiveness to the needs of the people, openness and accountability ought to be the order of the day. Participation ought to be encouraged so that the people are aware that those who govern are in place to serve them, and not the other way around. The complaints procedures available, not only via Chapter Nine, but also via ombud offices in different sectors, the machinery of IPID to police the police themselves and the existence of many vibrant civil society organisations ought to enhance active citizenship in SA.

Being passive about ensuring freedom is not indicated; on the contrary, freedom flowers vigorously if it is watered every day. However, it wilts if the responsibility of watering is shirked by those whose passivity and indifference indicate that they feel entitled, but are not prepared to acknowledge that the responsibility for protecting and promoting their freedom is theirs and theirs alone.

The pass laws were the work of an undemocratic and authoritarian regime which is no more. The poverty now in evidence in SA is the outcome of an uncaring government of kleptocrats, state capturers and perpetrators of a silent coup. Those who repurposed the state to serve their greed to the prejudice of the common good need to be held to account by the people. It is up to the people to do so. Exercising responsibility for the freedoms guaranteed to all is a liberating experience. Stand up, Mzansi, try it.

Hold yourselves to the Bill of Responsibilities.

Hold those who serve you to the Pledge.

Make an integrity pledge of your own.

Insist that the state respects and protects your rights and freedoms guaranteed to all in the Bill of Rights.

Then you will be free to enjoy your freedom on Freedom Day and beyond. DM

Part of this article is drawn from Hoffman’s new book Countering the Corrupt, available on www.accountabilitynow.org.za

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  • How exactly do you expect someone like Palesa Mosa to hold herself to the Bill of Responsibilities, hold those who serve her to the Pledge, make an integrity pledge of her own and insist that the state respects and protects her rights and freedoms guaranteed to all in the Bill of Rights

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