Let the Constitution come first, say former heads of state

South Africans must stand up and discuss ways to uphold their Constitution and the young democracy.

This is the call made by former heads of state at the first of a series of dialogues held by the National Foundations Dialogue Initiative (NFDI) in Braamfontein on Friday.

Former presidents Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and FW de Klerk, as well as former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, gave their addresses at the launch of the national debates. The resounding calls for accountability, Constitutional adherence and increased public engagement dominated their speeches.

Motlanthe described South Africa as being at risk of entering a state of “democracy deficit”, where the national culture would soon see a state of deteriorating critical engagement and a decline of accountability from elected office bearers.

“Political life under such conditions is such that the act of violating the Constitution, which amounts to the ultimate profanity against our very mode of existence, is reduced to banality,” he said.

Acknowledging that something “profoundly wrong” was simmering in South Africa’s political culture, Motlanthe has called for a series of national discussions that would allow South Africans the ability to talk not only among themselves but also with the government on issues facing the country.

“If we allow this unwholesome character of politics to continue while we wallow in silence, history will never forgive our generation.
We would have been complicit in an act of betrayal. We would have learned nothing from history,” Motlanthe said.

The NDFI is an initiative led by a partnership of foundations such as the Chief Albert Luthuli Foundation, Thabo Mbeki Foundation, Desmond & Leah Tutu foundation and the Helen Suzman Foundation.

With the initiative made up of three former presidents and one former deputy president, those leading the NFDI say the programme is not an attack on President Jacob Zuma or an effort to have him removed. Instead, they say it is an effort to revive the declining state of South Africa’s civic movement and the pivotal role it plays in getting the nation talking.

Mbeki called for the initiative to not only discuss pressing issues of the day, but also to advance tangible proposals for the future.

He said the Constitution should “occupy a central place in our national dialogue. The Constitution is the only document in our country, which is a nationally agreed compact, that represents the will of our people as a whole.”

Mlambo-Ngcuka called for women’s issues to also take precedence in the discussions.

Regarding women and girls who live and experience violence, she said “the institutions that are supposed to show zero tolerance to any form of violation of rights are themselves in crisis. The rights of women and those who have overcome many challenges are eroded when we fail to uphold the Constitution and its values.”

The national dialogues will be held in imbizo-style in different parts of the country. Thereafter a report will be compiled, detailing the recurring themes and concerns raised by South Africans. The foundations say this final report will be the subject of a national conference, with hopes that it may also be subject to further research and policy formation. 



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