Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
20 May 2008

Attacking the judiciary (II)

Prof Sandra Liebenberg has a good article in Business Day today in which she also criticises the attack by Johannesburg mayor Amos Masondo on the judgment of Judge Moroa Tsoka in the Phiri water case. Money quote:

There may of course be legitimate debate about whether the judge got it right, and this is an important part of public discourse and debate in a democratic society. As is the case with legislation and policy, court judgments should also be exposed to robust critique and debate. This is fundamental to a vibrant democracy.

However, it is an entirely different matter to call into question, as Masondo has done, the duty of judges to interpret constitutional rights and to grant effective remedies in the cases that come before them. The suggestion that, in performing this role, judges are acting as though they are “above the law” or that they should form a political party if they wish to govern the land undermines the fundamental principle of the rule of law. It also contributes nothing to democratic debate about the meaning and implications of constitutional rights for the governance of our country.

I also totally agree with Prof Liebenberg – following Justice Albie Sachs? – that we should view judgments of the Constitutional Court as part of our democratic conversation. Judges are independent but the courts are one of the three branches of government and their decisions must be viewed in that light.

Instead of viewing the courts’ role in enforcing these rights as an unwelcome intrusion, Johannesburg should understand that this is part of the “constitutional conversation” between courts, the government and civil society on how best to realise human rights. Rather than detracting from democratic politics, the judicial enforcement of human rights enriches constitutional democracy. The city should view judicial intervention in cases such as Mazibuko as an opportunity for research and reflection on whether its policies are consonant with the Bill of Rights. This will enable a more constructive dialogue on whether we as South Africans are meeting our constitutional commitments to the poor.

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