Pretoria - Concerns that President Jacob Zuma's government is undermining the independence of the courts are baseless, Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery has said.
“Comments such as these are ironic, particularly in view of what our courts and judiciary looked like under the previous dispensation,” he said while delivering the Dullah Omar Memorial Lecture in Durban on Saturday.
“The FW de Klerk Foundation criticised the current structure and composition of the Judicial Service Commission because, they argue, the fact that there are politicians who serve on the JSC amounts to political interference, which, according to the foundation, threatens to chip away at the foundations of our constitutional democracy.”
Jeffrey said under the apartheid regime, judges were appointed based on race, not merit.
“The process for appointing judges is outlined in the Constitution. And it is a much more open, consultative and transparent system,” he said.
“To accuse the ANC of chipping away at the foundations of our constitutional democracy, when it follows the procedure as set out in section 178 of the Constitution is simply absurd. How can it be unconstitutional to follow the Constitution?”
He said under Zuma's leadership, South African courts had become more independent, representative, accessible and legitimate.
Last month, former president FW de Klerk criticised the African National Congres for discriminating against people based on race.
“These policies, in the ANC's so-called second phase of transition, are overtly directed against South African citizens on the basis of their race,” De Klerk said in Cape Town on January 31, in a speech to mark 20 years of democracy.
“That is unconstitutional and the antithesis of the goal of national reconciliation.”
De Klerk, who unbanned the ANC and released South Africa's first black president Nelson Mandela from 27 years in prison in 1990, said South Africa had failed to provide decent education and jobs.
The time had come for “serious talks” between the government and all those targeted by its version of transformation, such as farmers, the media, civil society organisations, and small and large businesses.
“We have failed to provide all but a small percentage of our children with decent education,” he said.
De Klerk, who shared the Nobel peace prize with Mandela in 1993, said South Africa's greatest transformation failure was that it was now a more unequal society than in 1994. He referred to the country's Gini coefficient or measure of income inequality.
“Our Gini coefficient of 0.7 makes us one of the most unequal societies in the world.”
The closer the coefficient is to one, the higher the inequality in a country.
“The main beneficiaries of affirmative action and black economic empowerment have been the emerging black middle class and elite, and not the vast majority of truly disadvantaged South Africans.”
He said, however, that the ANC had achieved remarkable successes since it came to power under Mandela in 1994, including building 3.5 million new homes, providing electricity, water and sanitation to 80 percent of the population, and extending social grants to more than 16 million people. - Sapa