|Justice Edwin Cameron.|
With what it has enshrined, it’s hard to believe that in some quarters the South African constitution is unpopular. On the left, the complaint is that the constitution was a white sponsored conspiracy to maintain white privilege under a black government, while white reactionaries mutter that the constitution is a legal facade to deprive them of rights and property. Usually if there’s criticism from both extremes, you're doing something right.
|The Constitutional Court in Johannesburg|
Before the change of government, South Africa used “common” law (and Roman Dutch law at that). There was no constitution. Basically the government of the day could get away with almost anything (maybe hold the “almost”) just by passing a new law or changing an existing one. These could be – and were – challenged and struck down in the courts, but it was mainly an issue of the government phrasing the law correctly and following due process. There was no ultimate framework to which one could appeal. Cameron, an anti-apartheid activist who used the legal processes open to him to try to support the victims of the apartheid government, and whose commitment is beyond question, clearly remains ambivalent about whether that was the right thing to do or whether he'd just allowed himself to be co-opted to lend the regime respectability through its lip service to the law.
Nelson Mandela suffered one of the first major reverses from the new Constitutional Court when it threw out one of his initiatives. Looking back on this, he said: “It was, to me, never reason for irritation but rather a source of comfort when these bodies were asked to adjudicate on actions of my government and my office and judged against.” But that was Nelson Mandela.
|Zackie Achmat Founder of the TAC|
Michael – Thursday.