We are very happy that South Africans actively participated in an interesting discussion of an article by Thabo Mbeki this week on the obligations of MPs.
The article concludes with the question: Whom do the elected representatives represent?
We believe we must engage one another seriously on this question, with the specific objective of further deepening our democracy.
In his article, Mbeki draws attention to the constitutional imperatives that are binding on MPs.
In this context it is important that all of us make every effort to understand the national (1996) constitution and everything about it.
In particular, it is vital to understand that the constitution is a direct result of the protracted struggle conducted by the masses against white minority rule, which claimed the lives of many over centuries.
The ANC, the historic leader of our liberation Struggle, played a central role in the negotiation and adoption of the constitution. In negotiations, the ANC was determined to ensure that the constitution that would emerge would address the fundamental objectives which the national liberation movement had pursued since the founding of the ANC in 1912.
This is the reason the constitution, among other things, contains the perspective taken directly from the Freedom Charter: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.
The ANC was acutely aware of the pain imposed on the oppressed majority for centuries, through illegitimate, unjust and arbitrary minority colonial and apartheid domination.
It therefore took the firm position that we must reconstruct the liberated South Africa as a law-governed society which would end all illegitimate, unjust and arbitrary rule, ensuring that, as the Freedom Charter says, the people shall govern.
The result born of this is that South Africa is now a constitutional democracy, with that democracy spelt out in the constitution.
It is important that this democracy and the constitution which underpins it continue to be owned by the liberation movement as a great victory.
Determined to defend the victories of the national democratic revolution, the liberation movement must continue to occupy the forward trenches in terms of entrenching our constitutional democracy, remaining the most principled and determined defender of our constitution.
It was in this context that in his article Mbeki cited article 2 in chapter 1 of our constitution, which says: “This constitution is the supreme law of the republic; law or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid, and the obligations imposed by it must be fulfilled”.
He was asking all of us to remain loyal to our obligation to respect the decisions the national liberation movement took to replace white minority rule with government by the people, as visualised in the Freedom Charter. One of those decisions was to position the constitution as “the supreme law of the republic”.
The fact that it is now so many years since the constitution was adopted does not mean that as an architect of that constitution, the liberation movement has abandoned and is ready to betray its strategic task to defend the constitution as “the supreme law of the republic”.
Let me now return to the matter critical to our democracy, as raised by Mbeki when he posed the strategic question: Whom do the elected representatives represent?
As I have said, Mbeki argued that this question must be answered by referring to what the constitution says in this regard.
The specific constitutional prescription relating to this is contained in chapter 4, article 42 (3) of the constitution. This article says: “The National Assembly is elected to represent the people and to ensure government by the people under the constitution. It does this by choosing the president, by providing a national forum for public consideration of issues, by passing legislation and by scrutinising and overseeing executive action.”
When Mbeki reiterated this in his article, he was not expressing his subjective and personal view. He was affirming the need for our country’s progressive movement, including its parliamentary representatives, to respect and act according to what this movement had helped to insert into the constitution and thus honour the demand in the Freedom Charter, that the people shall govern.
Consistent with the chapter 4, article 42 (3) provision I have cited, schedule 2 (4) (1) of the constitution requires that before they take their seats, MPs must take an oath which says: “I swear/solemnly affirm that I will be faithful to the republic and will obey, respect and uphold the constitution and all other laws of the republic; and I solemnly promise to perform my functions as a member of the National Assembly/permanent delegate to the National Council of Provinces/member of the legislature of the province to the best of my ability.”
In the context of all my preceding comments, I draw special attention to the words in this oath, legally binding on all MPs, that they will “respect and uphold the constitution and all other laws of the republic”.
To “respect and uphold the constitution” means that the MPs must, at all times act:
• According to the constitutional imperative that “the National Assembly is elected to represent the people and to ensure government by the people under the constitution”.
• In a manner consistent with their obligation to “respect and uphold the constitution and all other law of the republic”.
• In a manner which respects the prescription that “this constitution is the supreme law of the republic; law or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid, and the obligations imposed by it must be fulfilled”.
This behaviour is binding on all MPs. It is particularly binding on ANC MPs.
They carry a historical responsibility as inheritors of the mantle of the historic leaders of our country’s Struggle for the victory of the national democratic revolution, the ANC, the principal architect of our constitutional democracy and the constitution which defines this democracy.
At no point in his article on the obligations of MPs did Mbeki suggest how any MPs, including those of the ANC, should vote in the proposed National Assembly no-confidence debate on the president (to read the original, visit www.mbeki.org).
• Boqwana is the chief executive officer of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.