Thank God for our constitution

What is it about our constitution that is so difficult to understand?

Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF) president, Mzwanele “Jimmy” Manyi is spearheading that august body’s call for the constitution to be scrapped, and for South Africa to return to a majoritarian parliamentary system.

Mr Manyi no longer answers to the name Jimmy, since as he pointed out during the parliamentary portfolio committee hearing into the FICA Amendment Bill last week, he was recently decolonised.

For the record, Mr Manyi, I was decolonised when in 1972, at the age of 17, the name Dalindyebo was conferred upon me, named thus for Inkosi Enkhulu Sabata Jonguhlana Dalindyebo, rightful king of the abaThembu people, who fiercely resisted the usurper KD Matanzima’s claim to the paramountcy abaThembu, and fought until his death in exile in Zambia in 1986, against the collusion of the Matanzima brothers, with the apartheid regime.

Mr Manyi – and we assume the PPF – seems to think that our constitution, one of the most admired and respected in the world, is somehow or other directly responsible for our spiralling levels of unemployment, inequality and poverty.

Indeed, he goes so far as to say that the ANC government is entirely blameless, that its hands have been tied for the last 23 years, and that it could have achieved considerably more, had it not been constrained by the precepts of our constitution.

Inevitably, he ties his objections to the constitution to the land question, noting that economic transformation has lagged, because the ANC’s land restitution programme has literally been on the back-burner since day one, because of the constitution.

At a slight tangent, the irony of Mr Manyi quoting liberally from the constitution he wants to dump, in order to support his ridiculous submission to the portfolio committee on the FICA Amendment Bill on Wednesday last week, is inescapable.

Mind you, Mr Manyi is not alone in his disdain of our constitution.

Jacob Jumza has on more than one occasion noted, that the ANC government could have done a lot more to address the needs of the people, had it not been hobbled by the constitution.

In the lead up to the 2014 national election, he called for a massive majority for the ANC, so that “changes” could be made to the constitution. That he failed to disclose at the time, what might constitute such changes, is illuminating.

This is the same constitution which the Constitutional Court ruled, Jacob Zuma had failed to uphold in his handling of Nkandlagate.

The same constitution to which the late Nelson Mandela referred, when he famously said: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.” during his inauguration speech at the Union Buildings on May 10 1994, the instant of the birth of our democracy.

The same constitution that guarantees Mr Manyi the right to suggest that the constitution should be scrapped, without fear of reprisal.

The same constitution that guarantees Mr Manyi his right to life, freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and guarantees that he cannot be discriminated against on any grounds whatsoever, none of which he had prior to 1994.

The same constitution that his ANC had an equal hand in crafting, as did all other parties to the Constitutional Assembly.

The same constitution that ensures the primacy of the Constitutional Court, which has through its jurisprudence over the years, held an oft-recalcitrant government to account in its obligations to care for the citizens of South Africa – its rulings on the rollout of anti-retrovirals, obligation to provide housing relief (Grootboom), prohibition on extradition if the suspect faces the death penalty, confirming the Public Protector’s recommendations are binding, and a whole lot more.

The same constitution which provides mechanisms, through the separation of powers doctrine, to hold the executive to account, and to ensure the country is not run by arbitrary, self-serving fiat.

The same constitution which has been amended on no fewer than 17 occasions in its lifetime.

The same constitution which is inanimate, and therefore incapable of “doing” anything.

The same constitution which requires agency in order that what it promises, may be realised.

The same constitution that is an enabling document, which provides the framework within which the government of the day can – but has in so many instances failed to – go about the business of making a better life for all.

The same constitution that the ANC government has of late, ridden roughshod over, in pursuit of opaque and self-serving agendas.

The same constitution which requires a 75% parliamentary majority to materially change, for which we ought to be eternally grateful.

Mr Manyi might not be aware of this, but the horror that was apartheid, and its perpetuation for 56 years, was only possible because we had a majoritarian parliamentary democratic dispensation.

It enabled the virtual enslavement of the vast majority of our citizens.

It permitted a powerful, autocratic, political elite to craft an exclusionary, divided society which was the very antithesis of the constitutional democracy that we now have.

And Mr Manyi wants to go back to such a system?