Monday, January 24, 2022
Home Opinion Jacob Zuma should not be allowed to hold our constitution at ransom

Jacob Zuma should not be allowed to hold our constitution at ransom


By Mondli Makhanya

News coming out of the US is that Donald Trump has effectively frozen the process of nominating the Republican candidates for the 2024 presidential election

The process of nominating presidential candidates informally starts immediately after inauguration and goes through various formal stages before culminating in the final nominations at the party conventions a few months before the actual election. 

But, this time around, the process has been frozen by the fact that Trump has indicated that he may run for office again and nobody in the party wants to compete with him. 

CNN quoted an aide to a potential candidate saying that “unless there’s a dramatic shift in the base, the nomination is Donald Trump’s and it would be a suicide mission to run against him”.

And so it is that a man who did the utmost to undermine the US Constitution still holds immense sway over one of the two major parties in the country and could return to continue to assault the 233-year-old document. The Trump experience was a demonstration of the brittleness of constitutional democracy in even the most developed and settled of republics.

That single populist was able to rally millions to his anti-democratic cause and even inspire a violent mob to storm one of the nation’s most sacred shrines.Our own Constitution turned 25 on Friday, a milestone that went largely unnoticed.

In this week of the 25th anniversary of the Constitution, about 100 councillors from the eThekwini metro embarked on a pilgrimage to the Nkandla home of former president Jacob Zuma, an arch anti-constitutionalist.

Having gifted the double-headed one a bull in a colourful ceremony that had tongues wagging, the councillors stated that they were there to celebrate Zuma and seek counsel from the “elder” ahead of their five year-term, which began after last month’s local elections. 

What counsel they were going to get from the most corrupt politician in post-apartheid South Africa, the very man who took the country to the edge, is a mind-boggling mystery. 

Like Trump, Zuma still has a hold on a significant portion of the ANC and its mass base, despite the innumerable sins he committed while in office.

As is now common cause, Zuma sought to use his time in office to subvert institutions of democracy to serve his own purposes and those of his clique. 

The judiciary was one area in which he failed and he hated this institution right up until he was forced out of office. And as he fought for his right not to account for his crimes committed while in office, he regularly lashed out at the judiciary and even compared their conduct to that of the erstwhile apartheid state.

In one of his blistering attacks on the institution, he said: “Concerning for me, as a person who fought for this democracy, is how the judiciary is now in the position where they are beyond reproach and the judges in this country are continuously taking extra powers to themselves to the detriment of legitimate democratic processes.

I strongly agree with the public sentiment that is starting to see the emergence of a judicial dictatorship in South Africa. This, like the injustice of apartheid, will not last, as there are many like me who still stand for true freedom and democracy.” His hostility towards the judiciary roused his loyal support base, which now sees this institution as the enemy of the people.

He has managed to instil disrespect for constitutionality, which is a gross violation of the several oaths of office that he took as he made his way up to the presidency.

We now sit with an unhealthy situation where the segment of the governing party that is partial to Zuma believes the Constitution is an obstacle.But Zuma and his lot are by no means the only detractors of the Constitution.

In the past decade, there has developed a narrative, particularly among younger activists, that the 1993 Interim Constitution and the 1996 final Constitution were sell-out documents.

Without a shred of evidence, they postulate that the reason for continued racial inequality and the slow pace of transforming the society is the Constitution. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. The country’s Constitution is a hugely empowering document that, with political will, could be used to ramp up the pace of change. 

Several retired justices of the Constitutional Court have commented in the past about how they wish they could have been asked to test issues such as land reform and free education. 

It has been left to civil society formations to use the courts to give effect to the Constitution’s socioeconomic rights provisions, with great success.

At this point in our democratic journey, we should not allow the Constitution’s naysayers to hold any sway.

As the four years of Trump showed (and another four years may still show), no constitutional democracy is safe from the negative elements and opportunists. Ours needs to be defended and deepened, and one of the best ways of doing so is to make ordinary people feel its effect in their lives.

Mondli Makhanya is the Editor-in-Chief of City Press

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