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The Constitution is not sacred and judges are not demigods

FILE – The Constitution is not sacred and judges are not demigods, says the writer. In this file photo, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo arrives at the national assembly, before the State of the Nation address. 190207. Photographer: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

FILE – The Constitution is not sacred and judges are not demigods, says the writer. In this file photo, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo arrives at the national assembly, before the State of the Nation address. 190207. Photographer: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jan 16, 2022

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OPINION: Let us have a healthy debate about the issues raised by Minister Sisulu. There should be no holy cows in the struggle to establish a South Africa characterised by peace, inclusive democracy, social justice and shared prosperity. In that discourse, the Constitution is not sacred, and judges are not demigods, writes Professor Arthur Mutambara.

Minister Lindiwe Sisulu penned an opinion piece on January 7, titled: “Hi Mzansi, have we seen justice?”

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It was quite a refreshing critique of the challenges confronting South Africa.

Sisulu’s right to express herself and the content of her remarks must be vigorously defended without equivocation or ambiguity.

On January 8, soon after I read the opinion piece, I publicly expressed the following remarks:

‘Wow, what a piece by Lindiwe Sisulu. I am pleasantly surprised that some in the ANC still get it and are prepared to articulate it eloquently. The issue is how to get such incisive thinking to influence the ANC and the country's direction. Is it a lost cause?’

I stand by these utterances.

Prof Arthur Mutambara is the Director and Full Professor of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge (IFK) at the University of Johannesburg. He is the Former Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. He writes in his personal capacity

There have been several articles and remarks attacking Minister Sisulu. The basis of the repudiation can be placed in three categories as follows:

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1) The context and motive of the opinion piece.

It is argued that: “Sisulu has been a Cabinet Minister, a leading parliamentarian and a key leader of the ANC for 27 years. What has she done about the issues she is raising in those years? She is a member of the RET faction of the ANC and is just campaigning for the ANC presidency”.

Well, I concede the context and motives of the minister’s piece must be interrogated. However, the discussion must not end there.

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That will be disingenuous and despicable.

The content of the piece must be engaged on its own merits. If your position is that: “The message is fine, but I don’t like the messenger,” then say so and tell us what you are going to do about her unassailable message.

2) The opinion piece is an attack on the Constitution.

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Well, a few questions will assist in dispelling this misguided disposition. Is the Constitution the supreme law of the land? Yes. Is the document sacred? No. Is it flawed? Yes, and it must be criticised, and fundamental changes sought. Why? Well, the Constitution is a ceasefire document (a settlement agreement) between the architects of apartheid and its beneficiaries on one side and the victims of apartheid on the other. It is a compromise and an imperfect document, pure and simple.

Obviously, such a Constitution will contain clauses, provisions and values meant to protect the interests of the architects and beneficiaries of apartheid.

This is common sense.

3) The opinion piece consists of insults against the judges.

The key mover of this view is acting chief Justice Raymond Zondo. Well, who are these judges? Are they demigods or holy men and women who are not mentally influenced by their history and current circumstances?

Certainly not!

What is that history, and what are those current circumstances?

We can state a few aspects of the history - Slavery, Colonialism, Apartheid and Patriarchy. Currently, what do we have in South Africa? We have economic and social apartheid.

(Let us be clear, what ended in 1994 was political apartheid, period), and of course, in 2022, we are still swimming in the pool of neocolonialism and patriarchy.

None of us (myself included) can claim to be completely free of mental slavery, colonised mindsets or patriarchal dispositions. None.

We are all consciously or subconsciously victims of our history and current circumstances.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o said “decolonising the mind is the most difficult exercise”, while Steve Biko said: “The most powerful weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

Judge Raymond Zondo must show South Africa his certificate of mental decolonisation, tell us when he obtained it and the person/authority that granted it.

No, he (like all of us) is still a mental victim of history and the South African context, consciously or subconsciously.

When someone says: “Mutambara, you are displaying a colonised mindset and behaving like a male chauvinist,”

I should not be offended.

Instead, I should accept the criticism, review and reflect on my actions, do some soul searching and change my ways.

I am a product of colonial education and society, and I live in a neo-colonial and patriarchal society.

How can I vouch for the perfection and nobility of my subconscious mind? That would be crass arrogance rooted in unadulterated ignorance.

So, Judge Zondo and your colleagues take a deep breath and absorb the message from Minister Sisulu. Do some reflection, learn one or two things and change your ways.

We all must do this.

Another point. Don't tell us: “Criticism is fine but insults, no.” Who are you to distinguish an insult from criticism? Under what authority do you make that distinction? Is that not a subjective exercise?

Just take the message from the minister without labelling it. Is the idea to label the remarks as insults so that you can dismiss them without the thorough reflection that they deserve? Of course, only children will allow you to get away with that strategy.

There are none here.

In conclusion, let us have a healthy debate about the issues raised by Minister Sisulu. There should be no holy cows in the struggle to establish a South Africa characterised by peace, inclusive democracy, social justice and shared prosperity.

In that discourse, the Constitution is not sacred, and judges are not demigods.

* Professor Arthur Mutambara is the Director and Full Professor of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge (IFK) at the University of Johannesburg. He is the Former Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. He writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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