A little more than two decades ago this was unheard of but today power is held accountable in SA writes, Ray McCauley.
Leaving aside the drama that took place in Parliament just before President Jacob Zuma delivered the State of the Nation address (SONA), two significant events took place this past week which should give us renewed hope for the future of our country.
The first one was the meeting between the government and business.
Writing in this column two weeks ago, I lamented what has for a long time been an unhealthy relationship between business and the government. I called for greater co-operation between social partners in an endeavour to get out of our current economic situation. The meeting between Zuma and more than 100 business leaders two days before Sona and, importantly, the meeting of minds between these two social partners gives us hope.
We are encouraged by both parties’ realisation that we are all in this together.
The fortunes of business are tightly connected with how the country, and therefore the government, performs.
The two may not like each other - in fact they don’t have to - but they do have a responsibility, if only to the people of South Africa, to make this country work.
One is encouraged by what was seemingly a candid discussion between the government and business. The commitment to, among others, creating an environment of policy and legislative certainty; instilling fiscal discipline while shielding the poor; fixing state-owned entities by appointing skilled people to their boards; and inviting private-sector investment in infrastructure development augurs well for our country. The challenge now is to implement, monitor the progress and report back to society.
The latter is going to be very important. If greater society is anxious about where the country is heading, chaos can break out. A way will therefore have to be found to filter down to ordinary citizens the outcomes of last week’s discussions and any ongoing work in this regard.
Indeed, more effort will need to be put into getting citizens to appreciate the challenges and how we are going to tackle them, collectively. Labour and civil society will need to be included in this effort.
The second momentous event happened in the Constitutional Court last week. It is a measure of our maturing democracy that a sitting head of state was taken to court by the opposition without the latter being forced to flee into exile for fiercely disagreeing with the incumbent power.
A little more than two decades ago this was unheard of in South Africa. Power is held accountable in South Africa today.
The admission by Zuma and his counsel that the public protector’s orders, unless set aside by a court review, are binding, settles a legal question that has seen this chapter nine institution, and its current incumbent, ridiculed, undermined and rendered almost ineffective. The domino effect of that capitulation by the president saw the defences of all those who were in his corner - from Parliament to the minister of police - crumble like a house of cards.
It was not a pleasant spectacle to witness senior counsels Jeremy Gauntlett appearing for the president, Lindi Nkosi-Thomas for the Speaker of Parliament and William Mokhari for the minister of police make concession after concession. This climb-down was made even more spectacular by the fact that it was live on television. But this is the path we chose: constitutional democracy with all its checks and balances.
The manner in which the justices probed and sought clarity (sometimes painting the defence into a corner) was impressive and an eye-opener to us ordinary citizens as to how the Constitutional Court works.
I personally like it when any walls - real or perceived - between authority of any kind and citizens are brought down for society to gaze through. The notion of equality before the law was displayed for all to see.
There were no members of Parliament there to shield executive decisions as the judges demonstrated publicly their oath of office to do nobody’s bidding, but that of the constitution.
As we await the ruling by the Constitutional Court, I must remark on the gracious disposition of the public protector even in the face of the concessions that have been made and what appears to be imminent victory. Thuli Madonsela has resisted the temptation to gloat and say: “I told you so,” instead remaining courteous and civil, especially towards the president.
Watching her being interviewed about the Constitutional Court’s proceedings and reading what she has subsequently said to the print media about the case, I cannot but conclude hers was never a personal battle but one of principle. I hope as leaders we can all take a leaf out of her book.
* McCauley is the senior Pastor of Rhema Bible Church, president of the International Federation of Christian Churches and co-chairman of the National Interfaith Council of South Africa
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.