Holding govt to account
A defining feature of most African rulers is the idea that those elected into office own the country, the nation, and therefore the economy. Opposition is considered a stumbling block to these goals and is often ruthlessly suppressed. This obsession with absolute power is the control of the intelligence services, the police, the judiciary and state organs that should hold government accountable.
South Africa's sordid spy saga is a case in point and continues to haunt the Thabo Mbeki presidency. It reveals political interference in the affairs of justice from a very high level.
Threats, coercion, undue pressure were all exerted on those whose constitutional mandate it was to execute justice without fear or favour. At the top were Johnny de Lange (former deputy minister of justice), Bulelani Ngcuka (the former head of the National Prosecuting Authority), Leonard McCarthy (former head of the Scorpions) and Willie Hofmeyer (former head of the Special Investigating Unit) - all political appointees in very powerful positions who owed their office to the president and therefore buckled under the pressure.
African presidents refuse to acknowledge that a government's duty is to leave a lasting legacy for generations that will succeed them.
The short-termism that characterises African governance has left a trail of destruction in many countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Mali, Ivory Coast, Somalia and others.
Political myopia has destroyed many of these countries and South Africa is well on its way if not checked in time.
Thank God for institutions like the Institute for Accountability in South Africa (Ifaisa).
It not only takes on high profile cases to test government's commitment to the constitution, it also empowers the public to engage with the democratic and legal process. Set up in 2009, Ifaisa promotes accountability in public and political life.
They are fearless in taking on public interest litigation to protect the constitution, the arms deal, the right of the Scorpions to exist and assisting a private citizen, Hugh Glenister, in fighting for the preservation of state accountability mechanisms have catapulted them into the public domain.
The Glenister case was an urgent application in the Western Cape High Court in 2009, in which Glenister sought to have the laws passed to dissolve the Scorpions and create the Hawks declared invalid.
Judgment was handed down in favour of Glenister in March 2011 and the court found the Hawks were not sufficiently independent to fight corruption.
It ordered chapter 6A of the SAPS Act invalid and inconsistent with the constitution.
Parliament was given until September 2012 to remedy the defect in the Act, which fails to secure an adequate degree of independence for the Hawks.
The Crawford-Browne case started in 2009 in the Western Cape High Court.
Crawford-Browne claimed an order compelling the president to appoint a commission of inquiry into the arms deals.
Surprisingly, Zuma conceded this demand and set up a commission of inquiry, which has yet to start proceedings.
This is proof of the enormous power civil society is able to wield to keep government on its toes. To boost their focus on public accountability, they also create public awareness around constitutional democracy, civic education, good governance and reforming basic education.
In other words, Ifaisa uses the courts to force government to give effect to the constitution and to entrench the rule of law.
This article first appeared in The Citizen.
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