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
16 September 2010

Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC)

Founding Principles

Preamble:

 South Africa is still a society in transition – the foundations of the new democratic order still need to be cemented. Its potential fault-lines – of race, ethnicity, gender, class and access to resources – have to be addressed within the context of a democratic constitutional order. Some may seek to exploit this vulnerability for personal or narrow gain, threatening the progressive values of human dignity, equality and freedom which underpin the Constitution that, hard won as it was, should not be taken for granted.

The Constitution is a social contract, resulting from, among others, ordinary peoples’ struggles and it must therefore be honoured by both government and the people. It must be protected and advanced as an instrument of social transformation, so that the majority of South Africans identify with it and would be willing to mobilize in its defence if required. Only by being seen to work in favour of all South Africans, rich and poor, and in particular the vulnerable and the marginalised, will the Constitution sustain the support of all the people of South Africa.

The ‘people’ are the principal custodians of the values of the Constitution, and custodianship needs to be relocated from institutions to people.  Once constitutional rights are claimed by the many, then ordinary people will undertake extraordinary acts to assert their rights and protect and advance the constitution.

Core Principles & Values:

The Council is a project of progressive people who want to advance the South African Constitution as the platform for democratic politics and the transformation of society. The Council embraces the contestation of ideas and encourages debate on how best to build a just and equal society in which people can live securely with dignity. .

While recognizing and supporting all the values included in section 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) is founded upon the following core Principles:

  1. The idea of “progressive constitutionalism” is a pivotal founding principle.  
  2. As the supreme law of the land, the Constitution provides a framework for the social and economic transformation of South Africa, and for a deliberative, participatory and inclusive democracy. This framework together with its underlying values and founding principles need to be protected and advanced.   
  3. The constitution itself must be subject to on-going critical appraisal to assess its efficacy as the needs of the country change. There may be a need to debate and lobby for constitutional and legislative reform to enhance the legitimacy of the democratic political process. The Constitution must be a living, not a static document that evolves to deepen democracy. 
  4. The principle of the rule of law is a critical building block in seeking to pursue the concept of constitutionalism; public and private power must be exercised within the law in order to retain legitimacy and to enhance a culture of responsibility and accountability to guard against the arbitrary use and abuse of power and authority.  
  5. Judicial independence is, in turn, an indispensable element, if not a pre-requisite for the rule of law and the integrity of the court system if it is to dispense justice that promotes substantive equality as well as procedural fairness.  
  6. In order for people to organise lawfully to claim rights, and to participate meaningfully in democratic decision-making, civil liberties such as freedom of speech, access to information, and a free and tolerant political process are essential.  
  7. The realisation of the socio-economic rights is intertwined with civil liberties and political freedoms. Social and economic marginalisation deprives people of their fundamental right to live with security and dignity and is a betrayal of the Constitution.. Endemic poverty and inequality renders South Africa a fragile society, where the poor and the vulnerable, especially women and children, are condemned to the fringes and easily exploited. There is an unacceptable and unsustainable gap between the vision of the Constitution and the lived reality for far too many citizens. This gap must be closed. Providing people with access to decent education, adequate housing and health care, and with the protection of a social security net, is essential for a cohesive society and the future prosperity of the nation. 
  8. As traditional orthodoxies are being questioned in the global economy, so too must the Constitution take into consideration the socio-economic context in which it exists and be responsive to the scale, urgency and inter-connectedness of the challenges of globalization and sustainable development. 
  9. The values that contribute to building a society with effective systems of open governance – ethical behaviour, accountability, competence, hard work, a spirit of public service with consequences for poor performance or corrupt conduct, non-violent resolution of disputes, and non partisanship – also need to be respected.   
  10. A rights-based culture must also focus on the responsibilities and obligations that go with these rights, encouraging citizens to be active in improving their own lives and communities, in holding government to account through participative processes and sustained social dialogue.  The goal is a deliberative democracy that celebrates diversity, where respect for the views and beliefs of others is the norm, and thus builds solidarity between people from different social groups

 A Call to Action:

 Significant gains in the constitutional arena have been made in the past fifteen years, and we take pride in these achievements. However the Constitution remains vulnerable to attack by conservative forces both within government and in broader society. It is time to build a broad-based coalition to advance and protect the Constitution. We have resolved, therefore, to establish a Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) to build social consensus and to develop a platform of common and complementary action across and between different sectors, with the following principal strategic objectives:

 A)    To organise, in harness with others, a multi-sector Campaign to mobilise in support of the Constitution as the expression of the goals and standards to which society aspires – social activism will provide the means by which people can claim and defend rights.

 B)     To develop an effective strategy for Public Engagement & Dialogue – people will only defend the Constitution if they can see and feel its tangible benefit to them; although leadership is important it cannot be just a leader-driven project.

C)     To foster initiatives that provide Advice – institutions and organisations that can help people not only to know their rights but to take action to protect and claim them.

D)    To encourage Public Interest Litigation – to enable more people to claim their rights under the Constitution, and to develop a progressive, assertive jurisprudence on human rights.

E)    To Conduct Research – there is a strong imperative to ‘make the case’ for constitutional rights through evidence-based research, and to leverage new opportunities for strengthening the Constitutional order.

F)     To Network and Communicate locally and globally around the need to protect and advance our Constitutional democracy, and to conduct a sustained engagement with key political actors, such as the ruling party, other political formations, the labour unions, business, the faith communities and social movements.

 Members of the Advisory Council

 Prof Cathi Albertyn

Mr Oupa Bodibe

Adv Geoff Budlender SC

Prof Richard Calland

Ms Susannah Cowen

Prof Pierre de Vos

Mr Mukelani Dimba

Ms Jackie Dugard

Mr Ebrahim Fakir

Mr Glenn Faried

Ms Judith February

Ms Nicole Fritz

Ms Isobel Frye

Prof Adam Habib

Mr Sello Hatang

Dr Frene Ginwala

Mr Mazibuko Jara

Mr Tshepo Madlingozi 

Ms Basetsana Molebatsi

Mr Neo Muyanga

Mr Lawson Naidoo

Mr Tembeka Ngcukaitobi

Ms Nomfundo Ngwenya

Adv Vusi Pikoli

Mr Sipho Pityana

Adv Paul Pretorius SC

Bishop Joe Seoka

Adv Wim Trengove SC

Prof Hugh Corder

Ms Sandra Liebenberg

Mr Tseliso Thipanyane

Mr Mathatha Tshedu

Ms Faranaaz Veriava

 

Honorary members of Advisory Council 

 Prof Njabulo Ndebele

Justice Kate O’Regan

Prof Kader Asmal

Dr Mamphela Ramphele

Mr Bobby Godsell

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