Privileged have financial muscle to flex constitution for poor

Former Mpumalanga premier Mathews Phosa is a man with a mission.

Former Mpumalanga premier Mathews Phosa is a man with a mission.

His mission is to educate ordinary South Africans about their constitutional rights.

"People know that we have a new democratic constitution, but they do not know what it says," he said at the launch of the Centre for Constitutional Rights.

The centre is a project of the FW de Klerk Foundation.

As part of his drive Phosa wants to target schoolchildren.

"We will produce CDs and reading materials in the language they understand to teach them about their constitutional rights.

"They need to know, for example, when a police officer approaches them what rights they have,'' Phosa said.

His participation in the centre is not without controversy.

He and former justice minister Penuell Maduna are the only blacks on a panel of 10 members. There are people who feel that De Klerk needed their black voices to give his project credibility.

The fact that the two have fallen out of favour within the ANC under President Thabo Mbeki has also been raised.

Phosa has rejected these notions. He said his involvement is an opportunity to engage on the supremacy of the constitution and how it should be upheld.

He said he need not necessarily agree with all that De Klerk deems to be of concern relating to the government's actions.

"What is important is that there should be dialogue about these issues," he said.

"There should be no holy cows when it comes to defending the supremacy of the constitution."

De Klerk has been at pains to say that the initiative has no political affiliation.

But his speech at the launch sounded like that of an opposition political leader.

He said minority rights were being trampled on by the ANC government.

He objected to the assertion that the judiciary should see itself as part of the masses, accountable to them, and inspired by their hopes and their value system.

"If this were ever to be the case, what hope for justice would there be for those who are not part of the masses?'' he asked.

But what is wrong in expecting the court to uphold the constitution for the benefit of the masses?

I am in no way suggesting that the rights of the minority should be trampled upon.

The reality of our society is that it is in fact sections of the masses who need protection when it comes to breeching constitutional rights.

They usually do not have access to the constitutional court because in most cases they are poor and illiterate.

They, more than the so-called minorities, who in most cases are part of previously privileged groups, are the ones who need protection from champions such as Phosa.

The De Klerk Foundation initiative's credibility should be judged on the basis of its successful protection of the rights of these marginalised sectors.

More so because the minority groups have shown themselves to be effective pressure groups that can punch above their weight.