Constitution not above citizens
SOME will be tempted to say that the past errors of negotiations committed by black leaders at Kempton Park two decades ago have come back to haunt the entire nation.
The implications of the flawed negotiations and the political compromises that failed to put the land, the economy and education at the core of the Codesa negotiations are today threatening to destabilise South Africa.
This is perhaps why we have the Jeff Radebe document on the transformation of the judicial system and the role of the judiciary in the developmental South African state. And appropriately so.
Radebe, the minister of justice, justifies this initiative in a manner that only a minority will disagree with.
He says: "It is therefore of importance that 17 years into democracy, a critical assessment of how the Constitution has changed the lives of the ordinary citizen be made.
"The role played by the Constitutional Court is of fundamental importance in this process, hence the necessity to evaluate the impact of our constitutional jurisprudence on society as a whole."
Radebe should have gone on to say that it was important also to assess the extent to which the legislation or the laws passed by Parliament in the past 17 years, including the ministerial budget votes, have transformed society.
The exercise would complete the assessment and the evaluation of the performance of the entire state.
A few years into the liberation of Zimbabwe, African political analysts had begun referring to it as the struggle that had lost its way.
This was because the political leadership had been busy toying with the dreams of the people and embarked on irrelevant, self-serving and corrupt activities.
It was only 22 years later when the embattled leadership unleashed the most unorthodox and violent land reform to placate the landless poor masses. The rest is educational history for South Africans to learn from.
The Zimbabwe experience is a clear demonstration of the fact that it was very easy for the leadership of the liberation project to forget the real reasons why the struggle was fought in the first place, and to keep deferring the dreams of the masses.
Experience indicates strongly today that the political leadership in South Africa also fell easy prey to similar pitfalls.
The onus remains on the proponents of the Radebe document to demonstrate beyond doubt that their intention is not to amend the Constitution merely to introduce a dictatorship.
Such an assurance will not only allay the fears of society, but it will also encourage society to enter the debate constructively and in good faith.
It was the Greek philosopher Plato who originally argued that the writing of a constitution was in fact the reflection of the way in which citizens wished to live and be governed. It was the search for psychological unity and politicalharmony.
The implications of this notion are that, although a constitution is the supreme law of the land, it is not above the primacy of the citizens who wrote it.
Prior to the adoption of the Constitution, people had dreams and aspirations. They had norms and standards governing their daily existence. The fact that they decided to better organise themselves and reflect these social, political and economic elements in a constitution, does not diminish their sovereign authority to continue to develop it until satisfaction.
The apprehensive concerns raised over the Radebe document should therefore not be so much about what will happen to the Constitution or the Constitutional Court and the judiciary.
It must primarily be about what will happen to the dreams and aspirations of the majority that have been deferred.
Poverty, social inequalities, racism, poor education and landlessness persist to ravage the majority despite all the assurances enshrined in the Constitution and the undertakings made by related institutions.
The Radebe document, unlike the National Planning Commission's national plan, does not visualise a capable state, but it refers to a developmental state.
Economist Amartya Sen, in his book Development As Freedom, puts forward essential principles for building a true developmental state.
These are political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities and transparency guarantees and protective security.
These principles should be embraced to capacitate the state so that the government can effectively remove "substantive un-freedoms" such as poverty, systemic social deprivation, poor economic opportunities, racism, repressive laws, intolerance and corruption.
South Africa is still a country of more than one nation, more than one economy and still without a single coherent national agenda. It has wide-ranging fragmentation of socio-economic policies.
This is a challenge to the Constitution and the national development plan.
- Skosana is house chairman in the National Assembly