Wednesday, June 18, 2008

De Klerk: Critical test ahead for SA's rule of law - Mail & Guardian

South Africa's commitment to the rule of law faces a critical test in the coming months, former president FW De Klerk told the British South African Law Association on Wednesday night.

This includes its handling of the trial of African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma and the issue of the Scorpions. Speaking in London, De Klerk questioned whether the ANC's brand of economic, political and social transformation will take precedence over its commitment to the Constitution, which states unequivocally that the new South Africa is founded on the "supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law". This will play an important role in determining whether the country will "stay on the high road of constitutionalism and the rule of law", or "stray into the minefields of unrestrained executive power", which characterised the apartheid regime.

Also tested will be the ability of the country's newly transformed judiciary to make the hard, principled decisions it needs to, at the risk of displeasing the masses or the government that appointed it. "The next 18 months will be critical in determining whether South Africa will abide by its liberal Constitution and the rule of law, or whether it will deviate from the principles that have thus far served it so well," said De Klerk.

A litmus test for the country's commitment to the rule of law will be whether Zuma's trial will proceed freely, fairly and without interference, he said. Another will be whether the police unit intended to replace the Scorpions will operate with the same independence, zeal and success in probing crime and corruption in government and political circles. "In particular, will it continue with the investigation and prosecution of Jackie Selebi, the commissioner of police, and with investigations into allegations of corruption related to arms procurement?" Also at issue is whether the government will adopt the Expropriation Bill, which has "disturbing implications", and whether it will reintroduce a much-criticised plan to reform the judiciary.

"Finally, and perhaps most importantly, will the government be able to curb violent crime and the type of mindless xenophobic violence that we have witnessed in recent weeks?" De Klerk asked. "The statistics seem to indicate that the government is very slowly beginning to reduce crime. However, the experience and perceptions of all sections of the population point in the opposite direction." De Klerk pointed out that the ANC has shown a keen awareness of the importance of practical success and of adhering to the global consensus, even when this involves deviations from its ideological programme.

He said the ANC's new leadership has on numerous occasions reiterated its respect for the rule of law and for the Constitution. "It has reiterated its long-standing commitment to 'the fundamental provisions of the basic law of the land', which, it says 'accord with its own vision of a democratic and just society'." The ANC insists, too, that it aims to implement "the letter and the spirit" of the Constitution, through multiparty democracy, separation of powers, fundamental human rights, respect for the rights of linguistic, religious and cultural communities and social equity.

De Klerk asked that the international community continues to take a "benign" interest in the country's affairs and supports the maintenance of the rule of law "with the same vigour as they criticised its absence in the past". It is on the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law that the "great national accord" South Africans reached between 1990 and 1996 rests. "Upon it depends the continuation of the South African miracle and the future happiness, prosperity and success of our country and all its people," said De Klerk. -- Sapa Goto for the complete article...

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