SOUTH Africa’s strongest guarantee that it would remain a vibrant democracy was a sceptical population which challenged authority and which embodied the spirit of popular uprising characteristic of the apartheid era, according to Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron.
Cameron, who spoke at the Cape Town Press Club yesterday about his recently published a book, Justice: A Personal Account, said this spirit of uprising was still resonating today. An example was the “astonishing” remarks someone like Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema could make about President Jacob Zuma.
While Cameron intended to keep an open mind about the comments, not agreeing or disagreeing, nevertheless Malema’s remarks made his “heart sing” because when Malema criticised the president he was exercising his constitutional rights.
“In most parts of the world he would be locked up.”
Cameron argues in his book that “the world’s most golden-hearted constitution” offered our best chance for a just society. The constitution not only required the government to abstain from doing certain things, but also required it to act in certain matters.
One such requirement was the population’s reasonable right to health. South Africans, in the form of the Treatment Action Campaign, had forced then-president Thabo Mbeki’s government to provide treatment for HIV-positive people.
Cameron described his book as a “sober call” for the population to continue to act in this way, to ensure the contents and spirit of the constitution were adhered to.
He said there were now 2.6 million South Africans, who, like him, were HIV-positive and who were able to get medication from the government.
“When you sign up (for HIV medication) they don’t ask you for your ID or where you are from... that is a consequence of activism.”
Asked if he believed the younger generation saw the constitution as something valuable and important, Cameron said he did.
There were many hazards which the population needed to tackle.
The country was in for a rough time, but that was not unique to South Africa.
“Our biggest hazard to me is the hazard of corruption. The service delivery protests are... saying: ‘We know you can do better if there is less corruption’.”