Constitutional Hill

LRC submission on WOmen’s Empowerment And Gender Equality Bill




The Legal Resources Centre (LRC), established in 1979, is a South-African based Human Rights Organisation with regional offices in Johannesburg, Durban, Grahamstown and Cape Town. The Organisation uses the law as an instrument of justice for the vulnerable and marginalized, including poor, homeless, and landless people and communities who suffer discrimination by reason of race, class, gender, and disability or by reason of social, economic, and historical circumstances. The strategies employed to secure the protection and promotion of human rights include impact litigation, law reform, participation in partnerships and development processes, education, and networking within South Africa, the African continent and at the international level.

The LRC through its Gender Rights Project (“the project”) focuses on empowering women by providing: legal advice; legal representation and negotiation; and by participating in advocacy and law reform.


The Legal Resources Centre is thankful for the opportunity to make written submissions to the Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and People with Disabilities in respect of the Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill 50 of 2013.

We further welcome the introduction of legislation which seeks to realise, respect and protect the right to gender equality in South Africa. Our country has significant levels of gender inequality which manifests in the personal as well as professional lives of women. These high levels of inequality continue to prejudice women’s advancement both within their homes as well as within their formal work place.

We note and appreciate that government has taken steps to address the realisation of the right to gender equality and that a number of key statutes have been enacted to respect and protect the right to equality. These positive steps need to be acknowledged and built upon if government is to meet its Constitutional obligations in respect of gender equality.


1. What the Bill aims to achieve:

The proposed purpose of the Bill is “to give effect to section 9 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, in so far as the empowerment of women and gender equality is concerned; to establish a legislative framework for the empowerment of women; to align all aspects of laws and implementation laws relating to women empowerment, and the appointment and representation of women in decision making positions and structures; and to provide for matters connected therewith.”

The Preamble of the Bill goes further to state that “As the Republic’s constitutional and international commitments in the field of human rights include the promotion of gender equality and the prohibition of unfair discrimination against women and the elimination of gender based violence; and as a measure to address discrimination against women are essential to the transformation of gender relations in the Republic”

The purpose and preamble all point to the gender inequality in our country and government’s obligation and commitment to address such inequality. This commitment is noted however based upon our practical experience we are deeply concerned that the Bill in its current form cannot begin to realise all of the obligations that exists in respect of achieving gender equality for the reasons set out below.

Women are not a homogenous group and legislation focused on formal equality as oppose to substantive equality will not in any meaningful way begin to address gender discrimination and inequality in our country.

We submit the Bill uses broad descriptive ideals without addressing in any meaningful way the plight of ordinary South African women. The Bill appears to over emphasise the need for policy development both in the public as well as private sphere to empower women. It is our submission that a number of policies, programmes and frameworks are already in existence and that there implementation has been deeply problematic. Therefore the failure of gender empowerment does not lie in the lack of policies and plans, but in their implementation and execution.

It is out submission that this aspect of the Bill leaves much to be desired as there is very little emphasis on the implementation of existing or future policies and plans. The Bill relies heavily on an assumption that everyone in the private and public sphere all want to achieve gender equality and that it is merely their lack of policy that has hampered participation and transformation. The reality is a somewhat grimmer picture and this needs to be taken into account when considering the implementation of the Bill.

The powers of the Minister although broad in scope, appears limited to only enabling her use of “1 any dispute resolution mechanism to address non-compliance” with the Act. We submit that if the Bill merely requires the development and implementation of a policy the Minister would find it extremely difficult to hold anyone to account for non – compliance as all a public or private body would have to show is that a policy was in deed developed, and that there has been implementation. The quality and impact of the policy and how it is implemented does not appear to have any emphasis, which in our opinion is the key to achieving the objective of the Bill.

The Bill does off course appear to give the Minister powers to engage and make recommendations and suggestions on proposed policies, but again this does not guarantee that her suggestions would be taken on board or in the event that they are not it would be found that the body in question has not complied with the obligations of the Act.

2. Terminology and Definitions

This brings us to the terminology or definition of what the Bill seeks to achieve, which is substantive equality. We submit that the definition of substantive equality fall far short of what it should be, and the model proposed in the Bill would simply amount to formal equality, which really is gender equality in fact and law. In order to achieve true substantive equality we need to begin to look further than quota systems of 50% and start looking at meaningful transformation and empowerment. Substantive equality requires that when policies and programmes are developed to advance women the individual woman is taken into account.

The definition of gender in the South African constitution speaks to so much more than merely women, men, girls and boys. The Constitution is inclusive and the protection and obligations extend to women, men, girls, boys, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-sexual as well as intersex persons. The Bill therefore should not limit issues of gender equality and inequality as being issues between men and women and girls and boys. Gender equality in terms of our constitution cannot be limited to mean “the full and equal enjoyment of rights and freedoms and equal access to resources, opportunities and outcomes, by women, men, girls and boys;” Yet this is what the Bill proposes in the definitions clause, and we submit that if this belief system was the foundation of the formulation of the content of the Bill then the Bill is not only flawed, but unconstitutional as it discriminates in its application to sexual minorities.

3. Implementationshortcomings:

The actual implementation of the Bill is deeply concerning to us. We however limit our submissions to what we believe are key shortcomings.

We would be interested in what costing has been done in respect of the actual cost for implementation of the Bill. In its current form, the Bill requires private and public bodies to provide the Minister with their reports within one year of being designated to do so. How many reports does the Minister or Department envisage receiving and what capacity does the Department have to do an in depth examination of the reports. Recommendations and suggestions to the reports are envisaged and this once again raises concern around the capacity of the Department to provide such recommendations and suggestions in order to effect real change. A very real reality is also what financial resources would be required from private bodies in order to implement elaborate policies and would lack of financial resources or claims thereof be sufficient to allow private bodies, which do not have access to government’s budget be sufficient to release them from their obligations in respect of implementation of the policies they have drafted.

A number of statutes enacted over the past few years have suffered serious implementation problems as a result of financial resources ranging from the Domestic Violence Act, 1998 the Criminal Procedure (Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment)Act, 1998 are amongst those. It would certainly be disheartening to see the introduction of further legislation that relies so heavily on financial resources and which proper allocation and planning has not been done.

The Bill seeks to provide the equal realisation of a number of rights in the Bill of Rights. These are the rights to Education and training, Access to health including sexual reproductive health, safety and security of the person (education on prohibited practices and gender based violence) These rights currently all fall under the mandate of existing government departments who are tasked with the realisation and protection of the rights. Our experience has been that many of these government departments such as the Department of Health and the Department of Justice have existing gender departments or women’s departments that focus on the implementation of legislation and policies so as to advance gender equality and the provision of specific services to women and girls. We therefore anticipate the very real risk of duplication of efforts and resources to achieve what is at the end of the day the same goal.

Another example of duplication would certainly be the lodging of reports by public and private bodies on implementation of their gender advancement policies. A similar exercise has been conducted by the Commission for Gender Equality over the last few years where they have called public and private bodies to publicly account to the Commission on implementation of policies seeking to advance women. In 2013 the Commission released a report after having conducted such public hearing. The Bill seeks to duplicate exactly these types of enquiries except for proposes to do so on paper by filing reports and recommendations.

We emphasise the need for an approach that sees the harmonization of interventions between public bodies in order to achieve gender equality. This is currently sorely absent in the implementation of government policies and plans. By requiring the adoption of further policies and plans as the Bill does would surely lead to further proliferation of the issue of gender equality as oppose to creating a united commitment to transformation.

4. Shortcomingsoroversight

The Bill deals in Section 11 with the socio-economic empowerment of women in rural areas, and makes the very serious error of assuming that women in rural areas live on farms, or are married to men who work on farms or seek access to agricultural land. Women in rural areas are not a homogenous group of individuals the problems they face in respect of gender equality and empowerment are not all related to land and farm worker conditions.

Section 11(d) further states that measures must be put in place to “ensure equal representation and meaningful participation of women in traditional councils” The Bill therefore further cements the plight of women in rural areas to work under or to submit to traditional leadership, which is steeped in patriarchal principles and believe systems. The Bill is silent on how women must achieve such representation if they so choose to participate and silent on what should happen in the event that such engagement is denied and culture or custom is used to justify the denial.

We submit that the Bill completely ignores the plight of the rural women and is indicative of little to no research being done on what is needed to realise gender equality and empowerment for rural women

The most serious of shortcomings in the Bill is the assumption that all women are formally employed and so private institutions and bodies account for the workplace equality and government accounts for the socio-economic conditions. There is no reference to the recognition of women’s unpaid work and labour, and the very real fact that women continue to do the bulk of housework and care work in respect of the children and elderly. The Bill remains silent on the gender equality at play within the private environment that women find themselves where more often than not the true reality of patriarchy and gender inequality is at play.

No recognition is given to the woman who is the community care worker and who meets the socio-economic needs of her community on her pension grant. She performs unpaid work on a daily basis and is on the forefront of gender discrimination and inequality, but without being formally employed who will be held to account to develop a policy that will address her empowerment?

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty recently released a report on Unpaid Work, Poverty and Women’s Human Rights in which she details the direct link between unpaid work, poverty and women’s inequality. She calls on governments to begin to address the issue of women’s unpaid work by giving them the recognition needed and calls for the development to address their inequality and empowerment. The Bill misses this very real opportunity to begin to address the issue.


We welcome the opportunity to engage with the Portfolio Committee and the Department on solutions to eradicating gender inequality and women’s empowerment. We therefore make the following recommendations in respect of the way forward.

We recommend that an evaluation be conducted of all existing policies which seeks to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality. That this process commences with government and that the resources be made available to enable this process. The evaluation we recommend should not merely be focused on the existence of policies and programmes, but also its content and implementation as well as the measurable impact it has had on the target audience.

Such a process would enable the different department to evaluate where their successful models of intervention lie and what gaps or failures exist. Through such a process we will be able to determine how to address the root causes of inequality without merely addressing the results thereof.

Prepared by: Charlene May and Mandivavarira Mudarikwa – Legal Resources Centre

Democratic internal party processes? Hmmm, unlikely.

Ordinary voters have little or no say in who will represent them in the national or the various provincial legislatures. It is often argued that this will change if we changed the electoral system. But changing the electoral system on its own will probably not make as big a difference as most people think. This is because party leaders and party elites will retain a decisive say in who serves in Parliament – unless the manner in which political parties nominate electoral candidates become far more democratic.

This past weekend the Democratic Alliance (DA) announced its lists of candidates for the national and provincial elections. At the announcement, party leader Helen Zille claimed that candidates emerged through “a gruelling, multi-layered assessment and selection process over the last six months”. She also asserted that the selection process was “rigorous and fair”.
Zille picShe did not claim that candidates were selected in a democratic fashion or that all DA members were involved in the selection of candidates. This is not surprising because, like most other political parties in South Africa, the DA does not select electoral candidates in a democratic manner.

The DA’s complicated selection process seems to be aimed at preserving a decisive influence for party leaders and party elites (admittedly largely on a provincial basis) in the selection of candidates who they believe will serve the interests of the party or (if one is a bit more cynical) who will serve the interests of a particular faction or leader within the party.

An ambitious leader within the party will try and ensure that his or her trusted allies are the ones to decide on who the party’s electoral candidates in a province will be. There will be attempts to get rid of MPs who are perceived as enemies or who are from a different ideological camp. Politics, after all, is about who decides and who decides who decides.

There are good reasons why party leaders and the party elites may wish to retain a strong influence over the selection of their candidates who will serve in the National Assembly and in the various provincial legislatures.

Where party leaders retain a decisive say over party lists, they can ensure that the lists are race and gender representative – as the DA clearly tried to do when it compiled the lists announced on the weekend. In this manner they can help to control the image of the party and can prevent the party from being hi-jacked by extremists within the party.

But the more control party leaders exert over who gets selected (or re-selected) as party electoral candidates, the more power party leaders retain over their respective legislators and the easier it is to enforce party discipline over them and to ensure loyalty to an incumbent leader or leadership collective. An MP or MPL who wishes to retain his or her seat in the legislature will be wise to think twice before questioning party ideology and dogma or publicly criticising influential party leaders. Why alienate the very people who will have a decisive say over whether you will retain your job in five years’ time?

Such a system of selecting public representatives helps to retain public unity within the party and discourages public criticism of party leaders – although private “leaks” to newspapers can never be stopped.

In a system where a party’s electoral candidates are not democratically elected by branches or by registered members of the party, but by a carefully selected electoral college or selection panel, the MP or MPL will be wise to perform his or her duties in a manner that will please party leaders and party elites.

In a system in which the selection of candidates is controlled or heavily influenced by party leaders and party elites, there is therefore little or no accountability between elected representatives and voters. Instead the accountability is between elected representatives and party leaders. Instead of voters holding the power over elected representatives, party leaders hold that power over the representatives who are supposed to serve the interests of voters.

It is for this reason, for example, that it is unthinkable that the ANC members of the National Assembly would ever support a vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma in the absence of a formal decision by the National Executive Committee of the ANC requesting the president to step down. Any ANC MP who supported such a vote of no confidence would probably have a very short career as a member of the National Assembly.

In a party like the DA, where the leader of the party in the legislature is elected by the party caucus, those who aspire to be the leader of the party in the legislature also has a direct and vested interest in the selection of candidates who would support his or her bid for leadership. MPs would therefore be wise to back a winning horse in any leadership race and to refrain from criticising an elected leader for fear of being “unselected” as a candidate before the next election.

Of course, our current electoral system of pure proportional representation (which requires us at national and provincial level to vote for a party and not for individual candidates) strengthens the control of party leaders over elected representatives and further weakens the accountability of elected representatives to voters.

In theory a mixed system with multi-member constituencies and an additional list system to ensure proportional representation of all parties in Parliament (as proposed by the Van Zyl Slabbert Commission), will enhance the accountability of elected representatives to the voters and will weaken the power of party leaders over MPs and PMLs. Because individual candidates will compete in constituencies, so the argument goes, they will be more likely to listen to and assist voters – regardless of the wishes of party bosses – because voters will have a far bigger say on whether individual candidates are selected as MPs or MPLs.

But this assumes that there is some fluidity among voters about who they are prepared to vote for, that most constituencies will be at least somewhat competitive and that party leaders will therefore think twice before removing a party candidate who criticises the leadership of his or her own party or acts in a maverick fashion that defies party discipline.

It is far from clear that at present these preconditions exist in South Africa. I can’t see that any candidate other than candidates nominated by the ANC will, in the foreseeable future, have any chance of winning a seat in a multi-member constituency in Khayelitsha. Similarly, none but a DA candidate is in the foreseeable future going to win a seat in a multi-member constituency in the city bowl of Cape Town. And if voters in a particular constituency are overwhelmingly supporters of one party, party leaders will have no qualms in removing even a very popular MP because he or she does not toe the party line.

If this is correct, it would mean that elected representatives will not necessarily become more accountable to voters – even if we change the electoral system – unless the influence of party leaders in the selection of party candidates is somewhat curtailed.

After all, half the representatives in local government are elected in constituencies, but it does not appear to have strengthened the accountability between councillors to voters. Instead, councillors are only really accountable to party leaders. It is only when party leaders decide that councillors have gone too far in embarrassing the party that action is taken by party leaders to remove or discipline wayward councillors. This is so because in many Wards in the vast majority of municipalities (outside the Western Cape) it is a foregone conclusion that the candidate selected by the dominant party in that Ward will be elected.

The big competition then remains between aspirant candidates of the same party who know that they have to win the support of regional or national party leaders or the dominant faction within the party in order to get elected to a seat on a municipal council. Once the person has been selected as the dominant party’s candidate for Ward councillor by the party, there is little incentive for the councillor to engage with and account to voters.

This does not mean that I am in favour of the US system of primary elections in which several candidates of a political party compete for the right to represent that party in a general election in a particular constituency. Primary campaigns cost money and vested interests – big banks, mining interests, property developers – may fund a candidate’s primary campaign with a view to buying the loyalty of that candidate.

Instead a more low-key mechanism which allows all registered members of a political party in a particular constituency to select the candidates of the party to run in that multi-member constituency may be the best way forward.

The only problem is that party leaders (of both the ANC and the DA) will probably resist the imposition of more democratic internal party processes for the selection of electoral candidates as they know that this will enhance the power of voters and weaken their own power.

Why redress measures are not racist

Anybody who highlights the pervasive racism and racial discrimination still experienced by black South Africans are invariably attacked by enemies of equality who oppose legal measures to address the effects of past and on-going racism and racial discrimination. Claiming that measures aimed at addressing the effects of past and on-going racial discrimination are “racist”, some of them assert that the right to equality always requires all people to be treated the same, regardless of their race, sex, gender or sexual orientation. These arguments, I contend, are both ignorant and wrong.

Insisting on the equal treatment of all people in all circumstances is deeply unfair. Insisting on such equal treatment can also have bizarre and even dangerous consequences.

To use an uncontroversial example, most of us would be horrified if schools insisted that all boys and girls, regardless of age or sex, must play in the same rugby league. Most of us would also be horrified by a government policy requiring every child to pay R50,000 a month to be allowed to attend a government school.

People are often discriminated against on the basis of age, sex or financial status. Yet few of us would deny that the policies mentioned above (which insist on the equal treatment of children regardless of their age, sex or financial ability) are profoundly unfair.

We may point out, when pressed, that because the playing field is not equal for the children involved, an insistence on equal treatment is profoundly discriminatory. It would endanger the lives of some children. It would also exclude children from life-enhancing benefits and opportunities based on no more than the historical “accident” that some children were born later than others, or on the fact (entirely unrelated to the abilities of the particular child) that some parents are able to afford the school fees while most will not.

For this reason the principle of equality cannot be based on the requirement that all people must be treated in exactly the same manner at all times, regardless of their personal circumstances or their personal attributes and characteristics.

Unless you are wilfully ignorant of South Africa’s history, you would not be able to deny that when our Constitution was adopted our society was “deeply divided, vastly unequal and uncaring of [the] human worth” of black South Africans. Anyone who has eyes to see must also admit that these “stark social and economic disparities” persist to this day.

Given our history of racial subjugation and oppression, it is no surprise that these inequalities are racially marked (although, as the Constitutional Court has pointed out, this racial inequality often intersects with other forms of disadvantage based on sex, gender, sexual orientation and – not mentioned by the Court – the relative poverty or wealth of individuals).

In 2011 the average annual income of a “white” household was about R365,000, that of an “Indian” household R251,000, that of a “coloured” household R251,500 rand and that of an average “black” household R60,600. (See table below.)


Our Constitution responds to this undisputed reality. Unlike opponents of redress measures, who insist that we should ignore these facts and should turn a blind eye to the way in which past racial exploitation continues to affect the life-chances of the overwhelming majority of South Africans, the Constitution recognises the incontrovertible fact that all are not equal in our country. If legal rules and policies deny this reality, it will simply lead to an entrenchment of existing inequalities. As the Constitutional Court stated in the case of Minister of Finance v Van Heerden:

Our Constitution recognises that decades of systematic racial discrimination entrenched by the Apartheid legal order cannot be eliminated without positive action being taken to achieve that result. We are required to do more than that. The effects of discrimination may continue indefinitely unless there is a commitment to end it.

This is why section 9(2) of the Constitution contains a so-called “affirmative action” clause, which provides for the achievement of full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms and authorises legislative and other measures designed to protect or advance persons or categories of persons disadvantaged by unfair discrimination.

Our Constitution thus allows for and in some cases, requires, “remedial or restitutionary equality”. As the Constitutional Court explained in the Van Heerden case (ironically brought by a white National Party member of Parliament who complained that he was being discriminated against):

Such measures are not in themselves a deviation from, or invasive of, the right to equality guaranteed by the Constitution. They are not “reverse discrimination” or “positive discrimination”… They are integral to the reach of our equality protection. In other words, the provisions of section 9(1) and section 9(2) are complementary; both contribute to the constitutional goal of achieving equality to ensure full and equal enjoyment of all rights…. Absent a positive commitment progressively to eradicate socially constructed barriers to equality and to root out systematic or institutionalised under-privilege, the constitutional promise of equality before the law and its equal protection and benefit must, in the context of our country, ring hollow.

As I have explained before, this does not mean that redress measures will always be constitutionally valid.

First, while the Constitutional Court acknowledges that redress measures aimed at bringing about transformation “will inevitably affect some members of the society adversely, particularly those coming from the previously advantaged communities”, a measure that constitutes “an abuse of power” or imposes “such substantial and undue harm on those excluded from its benefits that our long-term constitutional goal would be threatened” would not be permissible.

Second, the Court acknowledged that in the assessing the validity of redress measures “a flexible but situation-sensitive” approach is indispensable. This is so “because of shifting patterns of hurtful discrimination and stereotypical responses in our evolving democratic society.” Once the income of the average “black” household is more or less equal to that of the average “white” household and once the racially skewed patterns of property ownership have become less glaringly unjust, race-based redress measures may well be found no longer to be constitutionally valid.

It also does not mean that there are not, in certain cases, practical and conceptual problems with the implementation of race-based redress measures. For example, the way in which the current so called Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) policy is being implemented is a recipe for nepotism and corruption. BBBEE can often look suspiciously like a form of bribery aimed at moderating the economic policies of the ANC government and at opening direct channels of communication between the big companies and government leaders.

The revelations about Cyril Ramaphosa’s direct communications with several government ministers during the strike that led to the Marikana massacre clearly demonstrate the “benefits” of political connectivity that BBBEE bring to big business.

Often the policy is implemented in ways that allow the old business elite to “buy off” the new political elite by handing large amounts of shares or board positions to politically connected individuals, without benefiting the broad community and without redistributing assets and benefits to the large majority of South Africans.

Reasonable people could therefore engage in a serious debate about the correct scope and content of such redress measures. But claims that such measures are inherently “discriminatory”, that they infringes on long established human rights norms or that they are inherently unjust, are not based on either facts or any understanding of the legal landscape.

Those who oppose redress measures in principle (not having read much about anything and smugly holding on to their own ignorance) may not be aware that in the legal and philosophical discourse, the Constitutional Court’s approach to redress is neither unique nor conceptually problematic.

In fact, with the exception of some far right-wing judges on the US Supreme Court (who believe corporations have rights – just like people) I am unaware of any modern equality jurisprudence in foreign jurisdictions or in international law supporting the notion that race-base redress measures constitutes “reverse discrimination”.

Thus the lawyers and judges who staff the Committee on Human Rights, providing an authoritative interpretation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ratified by, and binding on, 167 countries) in a General Comment on the Equality of Men and Women endorsed the notion that states have a duty to take positive measures to achieve equal empowerment of women.

Similarly, the judges and lawyers who staff the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, providing an authoritative interpretation of the equality guarantee in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ratified by, and binding on, 167 countries) endorsed the need for states to take affirmative action measures and explained the need for redress measures as follows:

In order to eliminate substantive discrimination, States parties may be, and in some cases are, under an obligation to adopt special measures to attenuate or suppress conditions that perpetuate discrimination. Such measures are legitimate as long as they represent reasonable, objective and proportional means to redress de facto discrimination and are discontinued when substantive equality has been sustainably achieved.

The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, in its authoritative interpretation of the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (ratified by, and binding on, 187 countries) endorsed affirmative action measures as follows:

It is not enough to guarantee women treatment that is identical to that of men. Rather, biological as well as socially and culturally constructed differences between women and men must be taken into account. Under certain circumstances, non-identical treatment of women and men will be required in order to address such differences. Pursuit of the goal of substantive equality also calls for an effective strategy aimed at overcoming underrepresentation of women and a redistribution of resources and power between men and women.

Lastly, the judges and lawyers who staff the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, in its authoritative interpretation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ratified by, and binding on, 176 countries) explicitly rejects the use of the term “positive discrimination” when dealing with race-based “affirmative action”, noting that in the context of international human rights standards, this term is a contradictio in terminis (a contradiction in terms). It then proceeded to note that such “affirmative action” measures:

include the full span of legislative, executive, administrative, budgetary and regulatory instruments, at every level in the State apparatus, as well as plans, policies, programmes and preferential regimes in areas such as employment, housing, education, culture and participation in public life for disfavoured groups, devised and implemented on the basis of such instruments.

There are, of course, some reasonably credible lawyers and philosophers who support the principle that the effects of past and on-going discrimination should be addressed by affirmative action measures, but hold that such measures should not rely on “race”. I have previously written about structural racism, which – I believe – counter these arguments by showing that in South Africa race is not a proxy for disadvantage but itself always causes disadvantage.

All I will add here is that, if you support redress measures but agree with those who oppose the use of racial categories for redress purposes, the examples provided above at the very least must remind you that your argument is neither self-evident nor widely accepted “common sense”. I despair that many people taking part in the debate (wholly ignorant of the writing and jurisprudence on equality which have developed over the past 50 years) seem to believe that it is obvious that race-based redress measures are “racist”. It is not.

My advice to those would be simple: do some basic reading on equality law and the use of racial categories in effecting redress. It may, at the very least, make you realise that the view you think is based on self-evident common sense is not nearly as obvious as you believe. It may even lead you to reflect and think.

News flash, folks: private discrimination IS illegal

Many South Africans still wrongly believe that they have an absolute right to discriminate against black South Africans by refusing  to provide them with access to a service because the service is rendered on their private property. A recent newspaper advertisement, offering “safe non-affirmative action” accommodation for female students of the University of the Free State, is a textbook example of this criminal behaviour.

The Rights in the South African Bill of Rights – unlike many other, more traditionally liberal, human rights texts – do not only bind the state. In certain circumstances the rights in the Bill of Rights also bind private individuals, institutions and businesses who are constitutionally required to respect the rights of everyone.

Section 9(4) reinforces this principle in the field of discrimination law by stating that “[n]o person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds”, including race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religion, belief or culture.

The Constitution itself therefore places limits or the right to property as well as the right to freedom of association. As the Constitutional Court has indicated several times, the provisions of the Constitution must be read holistically, which means that section 9(4) must be read as placing an internal limitation on other rights such as the right to property and the right to freedom of association. This means the right to associate freely and the right to property is qualified by section 9(4) and these rights can only be exercised in conformity with the non-discrimination injunction contained in section 9(4) of the Bill of Rights.

The right to property has never been an unqualified right – even in the pre-Constitutional era. As is the case in all other countries – the law places drastic restrictions on the way in which a property owner can make use of his or her property in order to advance the common good or to protect the community.

That is why a property owner cannot dump toxic chemicals into a river running through his or her property, why a property owner is prohibited from making incessant noise, why a property owner has a duty to ensure that the roots of any trees on his or her property do not threaten the integrity of buildings on an adjacent property and why you cannot use the back yard of your suburban home to run a poultry farm.

Of course, a private property owner who does not offer a service to members of the public and complies with the many other legal restrictions imposed on the use of that property, remains free to act with the property as he or she wishes. There is therefore no law prohibiting a property owner from only inviting white friends to a braai or from only inviting male friends to come and watch a rugby match in his living room.

While we may make a moral judgment about a person who refuses to mix socially with members of another race, the law does not and cannot force that person to befriend members of a different race and to accommodate them in a purely social setting on his or her property.

Despite the very clear an unambiguous constitutional prohibition against unfair discrimination by private parties, some property owners still believe that they have a right to refuse to rent a room or a flat or house to somebody because that person is black or gay or Muslim.

Some business owners also wrongly believe that (an essentially unenforceable) “right of admission reserved” sign at the entrance to their restaurant, Bed and Breakfast or holiday resort allow them to refuse entrance to a potential customer because the customer is black or gay or a Rastafarian. Section 9(4) now limits the potential legal ambit of the right of admission rule.

I suspect few landlords (who are defined in the Rental Housing Act as including anyone who rents out an apartment, house, shack or a room in a house or an apartment to members of the public) know that it is a criminal offence to discriminate against potential or existing tenants. This is because many people are unaware of the content of section 4(1) of the Rental Housing Act, which states that:

In advertising a dwelling for purposes of leasing it, or in negotiating a lease with a prospective tenant, or during the term of a lease, a landlord may not unfairly discriminate against such prospective tenant or tenants, or the members of such tenant’s household or the visitors of such tenant, on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

Read with section 16 of the Act, it is clear that anyone who contravenes section 4(1) is guilty of a criminal offence and liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment not exceeding two years. As soon as a landlord offers rental accommodation to the public, he or she is bound by the Act and is prohibited from discriminating.

The situation may be different where a property owner does not advertise the rental accommodation to the public, but asks friends or relatives to share the accommodation with him or her.

This means that “Ronel” who advertised “safe non-affirmative action” accommodation for female students of the University of the Free State, runs the risk of being criminally prosecuted and being sent to jail for two years.

Tenants who rent accommodation from unscrupulous landlords can also approach the Rental Housing Tribunal in their province, who is empowered to resolve rental disputes and address any unfair practices of a landlord. In the case of unfair discrimination, the Rental Housing Tribunal is authorised to refer the matter to the police for criminal investigation.

The Rental Housing Tribunal can also make any other ruling that is just and fair in order to terminate any unfair practice, including a ruling to discontinue overcrowding; unacceptable living conditions; exploitative rentals; or lack of maintenance. Rental Housing Tribunals are, as far as I can tell, under-utilised.

Maybe it is time that more South Africans challenge unfair rental practices before the Rental Housing Tribunal. How else will things ever change?

PS: There is no one website for the Rental Housing Tribunal as they operate on a provincial/municipal basis. But I have been able to find the following contact details (which I have not had the time to check) for the respective Rental Housing Tribunals.

NORTH WEST 018 384 6201018 387 6056 PO Box 3190Mbatho, 2735 2386 Robert Sobukwe DriveUnit 1, Mbatho
JHB  EAST 011 630 5035 Private Bag x79Marshall Town,2107 1066 Corner Harrison,Pritchard Street, JHB, 2000
PRETORIA 012 358 4403012 358 4299 F Room 215, Sanlam Plaza East,285 Schoeman Str, Pretoria
CENTURION 012 358 3898012 358 4299 F Room C1 1st Floor260 Basson AvenueLyttelton, Centurion
KZN 031 336 5300031 336 5226 Private Bag x 9485Durban, 4000 Toleram House 2, Aliwal StrDurban, 4000
LIMPOPO 015 294 2000015 295 8167 F Private Bag x 9485Polokwane, 0700 28 Market Str, 20th AvenuePolokwane, 0699
EASTERN CAPE 040 639 1769040 609 5198 F Private Bag 0035Bisho, 5605 4th Floor, Tyamzarshe Building,Bisho, 5605
NORTH CAPE 053 830 9455053 831 8016 F Private Bag x 5005Kimberley, 8300 9 Cecil Sussman RoadKimberley, 8301
WESTERN CAPE 021 483 9494021 483 3511 F086 010 6166 Private Bag x 9083Cape Town, 8000 Ground Floor, 27 Wale Str,Cape Town, 8000
MPUMALANGA 013 766 6200 Private Bag x 11304Nelspruit, 1200 Mpumalanga Provincial Gov.Building, 6 Gov. BoulevardRiverside Park, Nelspruit, 1200
FREE STATE 051 405 5034 PO Box 211Bloemfontein, 9300 Lebogang st Andrews StrBloemfontein, 9300


Water is life, but the struggle for it is deadly

The death of at least three people protesting against the lack of access to water in Mothotlung in the Madibeng municipality, all allegedly due to action by members of the South African Police Service (SAPS), brings into sharp focus the failure of some municipalities to fulfil their constitutional obligations. It also raises the spectre of an out-of-control police force using excessive violence to punish protestors for challenging the authority of the government or the police.

“Water is life,” wrote Justice Kate O’Reagan in the Constitutional Court judgment of Mazibuko and Others v City of Johannesburg and Others. “Without it, nothing organic grows. Human beings need water to drink, to cook, to wash and to grow our food. Without it, we will die. It is not surprising, then, that our Constitution entrenches the right of access to water.”

It may well be that “water is life”, as the Constitutional Court claimed, but the killings in Mothotlung also demonstrate that the struggle for access to water in rural South Africa can itself be deadly.

For the residents of Mothotlung, the Constitutional promise of access to water, contained in section 27 of the Bill of Rights, must ring hollow. In December the inhabitants of Mothotlung were without access to water for almost two weeks. Water again stopped flowing in Mothotlung last Friday with no indication of when the problems would be solved, sparking the most recent protests.

As Merle Dipua Seema, a local resident (who also helpfully provided the correct spelling for Mothotlung) explained to me on Facebook, even when water is available in the area, its quality is of a dubious standard, with devastating consequences for the poor:

The water, when available, may be scientifically potable ,but not according to the greasy rim it leaves in my bath nor toilet. Running a water bottled water bizniz has become a lucrative opportunity. The need to boil tap water for those that can’t afford further strains the household budget.

It goes without saying that this is not the state of affairs promised by the Constitution. Section 27 of the Constitution requires the state to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of the right of access to water.

To give meaningful content to this constitutional obligation, Parliament has enacted the Water Services Act, which regulates the right of access to water and sets out the exact obligations placed on the state regarding the provision of access to clean water. Section 3 of the Act confirms that every municipality has a duty to take reasonable measures to realise the right to a “basic water supply”.

“Basic water supply” is defined in the Act as “the prescribed minimum standard of water supply services necessary for the reliable supply of a sufficient quantity and quality of water to households, including informal households, to support life and personal hygiene.”

In terms of section 9 of the Act the Minister can prescribe a compulsory national minimum standard of water supply that must be provided to residents by all municipalities. The regulations issued by the Minister determine that every municipality is legally required to provide a:

minimum quantity of potable water of 25 litres per person per day or six kilolitres per household per month at a minimum flow rate of not less than 10 litres per minute; within 200 metres of a household; and with an effectiveness such that no consumer is without a supply for more than seven full days in any year.

It is clear that the Madibeng municipality has consistently failed to meet its basic constitutional and legislative obligations as set out above. The municipality is therefore flouting the Constitution and the law and seems either incapable or unwilling to comply with it.

As the Daily Maverick reported earlier this week, it is perhaps not surprising that the Madibeng municipality is unable to provide some of its citizens with regular adequate quality supply of running water.

In March 2010, the Madibeng municipality was placed under administration after an audit exposed financial mismanagement to the tune of R100 million. In June 2011, newspapers exposed the fact that the new executive mayor was renting a BMW at the cost of R2,025 per day. In April last year, it was reported that R1 billion of assets, supposedly owned by the municipality, were missing.

The case highlights the limits of the law in situations where the political process has broken down. People living in Mothotlung do not have the funds to finance court action to have the abuse of their rights halted. (This is unlike the – mostly middle class – Gauteng residents who opposed paying e-tolls, who funded several failed court bids to stop the implementation of e-tolls.)

What are the residents of Mothotlung to do to force the municipality to comply with its legal obligations? Yes, they could try to vote out the Madibeng councillors at the next local government election, but given the organisational muscle and financial resources available to the governing party it is not clear that they would actually succeed in doing so. In any case, that election is still several years away.

They could theoretically also place pressure on ward councillors to take up their case. But the ward councillors are beholden to the governing party – not the voters – as they were nominated as ward councillors by the leadership of the governing party and depend on the patronage of the party leadership to remain in office.

And – this is just a hunch – but I suspect that a mayor of a relatively small municipality who splurged more than R2,000 of taxpayers’ money a day on renting a BMW is probably not going to respond promptly to a petition handed to him at a genteel and peaceful picket.

The theory of participatory democracy breaks down when elected officials – beholden to financial benefactors or party bosses instead of their voters – do not feel pressured to act in an open and transparent manner or to account to those whom they were elected to serve. When the elected officials are too corrupt, too heartless or too incompetent to provide residents with the most basic life-saving resources and when they utterly fail to respond to complaints by those who voted for them, it is unclear what democratic avenues are open to residents to secure access to life-saving water.

Predictably the residents of Mothotlung resorted to protest action in the wake of yet another water shutdown and, just as predictably, the protest action turned violent. The ensuing violence and the resultant police brutality finally grabbed the attention of the media and therefore also the politicians from the national government anxious about an upcoming election.

It was during these protests that the police shot and killed two protestors with live ammunition and a third protestor mysteriously fell out of a police vehicle (providing uncomfortable echoes of the Apartheid years, when detainees often “slipped on soap” or “jumped” to their deaths out of the 18th story of John Vorster Square).

Remarkably, on Twitter and other social media platforms, some commentators suggested that because the protest was not entirely peaceful, the police was perfectly justified in killing the protestors. This view is not only barbaric; it also flies in the face of the Constitution and the law.

Of course, the SAPS is legally required to protect property and to maintain or restore calm in a community. However, police officers are constitutionally and legally required to do so by using the minimum amount of force. Police officers are very seldom justified in killing anyone and are not allowed to use live ammunition on protestors unless their lives are under imminent threat.

This is so, not only because the right of everyone to life and bodily integrity is protected in the Constitution, but also because police officers are not magistrates or judges and hence do not have the power to determine the criminal guilt of protestors or to punish protestors for allegedly taking part in illegal activities. When police officers use maximum force against unarmed protestors where large scale damage to property is not threatened and subsequently maim or kill some of the protestors, they are no more than vigilantes who have unlawfully arrogated to themselves the right to judge and punish fellow citizens.

When police officers use maximum force to kill protestors who do not threaten their lives, they are doing no less than meting out the death penalty to citizens who have not been found guilty of any crime. It seems that some members of the police force, and some of their supporters who cheer on their brutality, yearn to bring back the death penalty which was found to be unconstitutional in 1995.

It’s a shocking turn of events. Parliament should, of course, call the Police Commissioner, the minister of police and ultimately the president who heads the government under whose watch these extra-judicial killings are occurring, to account. But because the majority of members in Parliament are beholden for their jobs to the leadership of the governing party (including the president and the police minister), this is not going to happen.

Changing the Constitution? Probably not.

Last week President Jacob Zuma told ANC supporters in KaNyamazane, near Nelspruit, that the party wanted a “huge majority” to change “certain things” in the Constitution because there were “certain hurdles” in the Constitution. The President’s remarks caused a predicable outcry. But in the absence of details about which particular sections of the Constitution the President believed presented “hurdles” to the ANC government, the outcry was nonsensical. This is so because there is nothing inherently problematic in changing the Constitution. It would be better to focus on the words and (especially) the deeds of the Zuma government over the past five years to try and establish which sections of the Constitution are seen as stumbling blocks to governing the country.

As Jane Austen, the constitutional scholar, might have written: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a political party in government in a constitutional democracy must be in want of amending the Constitution. However little known the feelings or views of the leaders of such a party may be on them first entering government, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the middle classes, that any talk of amending the Constitution by the leadership of the party will send the elites into a panic.”

It is not always clear whether such a panic will be justified. It is only when the governing party wishes to amend the Constitution to weaken the checks and balances on its power because these checks prevent it from undermining democracy, from entrenching its power in undemocratic ways and from disregarding the human dignity of those who live in that democracy, that the alarm should be raised.

The South African Constitution – like almost all modern Constitutions – provides for its own amendment albeit with heightened majorities. The founding provision in section 1 of the Constitution can be amended with the support of 75% of the members of the National Assembly (NA), while the rest of the Constitution can be amended with the support of two thirds of the members of the NA. An amendment to section 1, any provision in the Bill of Rights, and any provisions relating to provinces also requires the support of six of the nine provincial delegations to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

Since 1996 the Constitution has been amended on no less than seventeen occasions. Apart from the floor crossing amendments, amendments to the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court, amendments to the appointment of the leadership of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal, and amendments to the tenure of Constitutional Court judges, the amendments were of a relatively technical nature.

Over the past five years several events suggest that sections within the governing party – driven by traditional values and a kragdadige (autocratic) view of state power – are irritated by aspects of the Constitution that protect the human rights of all citizens. I will highlight some of these events here and will identify those aspects of the Constitution that place “hurdles” in the path of this section of the governing party to implement their vision for the country.

First, the introduction by the government of the Traditional Courts Bill, as well as moves late last year to force ANC controlled provinces to reverse their opposition to this Bill, present serious constitutional challenges to those who are championing the Bill. This is so because the Bill, aimed at enhancing the powers of (overwhelmingly male and undemocratically appointed) traditional leaders, is in conflict with several sections of the Constitution.

These include those sections of the Constitution which prohibits sex and gender discrimination (section 9); state that the right to practice your culture “may not be exercised in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights” (section 31(2)); and state that the “institution, status and role of traditional leadership, according to customary law, are recognised, subject to the Constitution” (section 211). It is also almost certainly in conflict with one of the founding values in section 1 of the Constitution which establishes South Africa as a democracy based on “universal adult suffrage, a national common voters roll, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.”

Second, the Marikana massacre and what now seems like the subsequent police cover up, as well as widespread and increased police brutality over the past five years – just this week Tshwane Metro Police shot dead a vegetable vendor for refusing to hand over his stock to the police – suggest that elements within the government may wish to dispense with certain fundamental human rights safeguards that render the abuse of power by the police illegal (even if, sadly, it does not prevent it from happening).

Several sections of the Constitution stand in the way of the government formalising these kinds of police brutality as normal and lawful. Section 10 of the Bill of Rights proclaims that everyone “has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected” (but tell that to a police officer and see how far it gets you); while section 11 states that everyone has the right to life (in other words, a right not to be killed by the police for allegedly taking part in a violent strike).

Moreover, section 12 guarantees for everyone (including non-citizens) the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right not to be deprived of freedom arbitrarily or without just cause; not to be detained without trial; to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources; not to be tortured in any way. Section 35(3) states that every accused person has a right to a fair trial, which includes the right to be presumed innocent, a right that is breached when the police take the law into their own hands and shoot and kill people for allegedly breaking the law.

All of these sections of the Constitution will have to be scrapped if the police is legally to be given a free hand to pursue and punish those who they decide are “criminals” (without the benefit of a trial). Given the fact that few police officers are ever prosecuted for assaulting or killing ordinary citizens and given that the government has largely remained silent about such gross abuses of power by the police, a cynic may well begin to believe that the sections of the constitution mentioned here are seen as some of the “hurdles” that have to be removed by amending the Constitution.

Over the past five years the government (at especially local government level) has also increasingly been involved in the unlawful eviction of especially poor people from their homes. In this the DA government in Cape Town has found common ground with ANC councils in other parts of the country, even inventing a non-existing law to justify the unlawful eviction and demolition of shelters of people.

One would therefore assume that even without an overwhelming electoral victory, the ANC and the DA could easily get rid of this perceived constitutional “hurdle” by scrapping section 26(3) of the Constitution which states that “[n]o one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions.”

The one article I have not mentioned is section 25 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to property, while placing a duty on the state to effect land reform. As I have written before, despite the fact that the section does not require the state to pay market value for all properties expropriated for land reform, the government has persisted in doing so. Recently the government paid more than one billion Rand to the owners of Mala Mala in a land restitution matter, confirming that it is comfortable to pay vast sums of money to (certain) private land owners. Despite the fears of middle class land owners, this section on property rights therefore seems relatively secure and is not viewed as one that presents a “hurdle” to the government.

Of course, it is unlikely that the ANC will make any of the changes to the Constitution that their record in government suggest they would like to make. This is so, first, because the party is not likely to obtain a two-thirds majority in the election and,second, because the business men and women who fund the ANC and it’s leaders are not in favor of such changes as such changes will spook “the market” as well as the much vaunted “international investors”.

I would therefore suggest that both the media and voters would be better off ignore the statements of President Jacob Zuma about changing the Constitution and to view it as no more that empty election rhetoric aimed as sounding “radical”.

Tentative thoughts on reconciliation

Some South Africans are fondly remembering the late Nelson Mandela as the father of reconciliation in our country. But for many others the word “reconciliation” leaves a bitter taste on the tongue. What do we mean when we talk of “reconciliation”? Is it possible to achieve it? Is it even desirable to seek it? Maybe it’s time, after Mandela has been laid to rest so beautifully over the weekend, to start a difficult conversation around this dangerous and difficult word.

When I was around ten years old my father solemnly pressed a well-worn hardcover book into my hands. “It is time you read this,” he said. The book was called Tant Miems Fisher se Konsentrasiekamp Dagboek (“Auntie Miems Fisher’s Concentration Camp Diary”). It contained the diary written by Miems Fisher while incarcerated by the British towards the end of Anglo-Boer War. It exposed the cruelties visited upon her and other women and children in those camps, where more than 30 000 Boer women and children died.

I can’t recall his exact words, but my father implied that this is an episode of Afrikaner history we should never forget. Nor should we forgive the English for perpetrating this horror. This happened more than 70 years after the War had ended, at the time when Afrikaners were at the height of their political power, which they (I should, perhaps, rather say we) used very efficiently to dehumanise and oppress the majority of South Africa’s population.

This past week my late father (and tant Miems Fisher) was much on my mind. If my father was unable to reconcile with English South Africans more than 70 years after the Anglo-Boer War had ended, why is there an expectation that fellow South Africans should reconcile with us whites merely twenty years after the advent of democracy, when the ghost of apartheid is still haunting us and the effects of its devastation is still felt every day all around us?

Let me put my cards on the table. I have a problem with the manner in which the term “reconciliation” is often used in South Africa. In this problematic formulation, “reconciliation” is a once-off event partly made possible by Madiba, one that allows us (no, requires us) to end the conversation about our past, our role in it and our present-day responsibilities as members of a social and political community.

Instead of viewing reconciliation as a long, difficult and painful process that requires us to confront our past, it becomes an incantation invoked by some South Africans to avoid talking about the demands of justice. It is based on the assumption that reconciliation is easy, that it demands little of us (especially from those of us who benefited and continue to benefit from past and on-going injustice).

It aims to wipe the slate clean and is often invoked to silence those who ask difficult questions about what reconciliation — real reconciliation — may demand of us. It does not keep open the possibility that in the present social and economic context reconciliation may be impossible to achieve and that pursuing it may be unjust or unwise.

This narrative of reconciliation is deployed to ensure that we avoid talking about (mostly, still, race-based) inequality, of the need for redress, of the way in which our chances to achieve our full potential as a human being still to a large degree depends on who we are born as, who our parents are, where we stay, what school we went to, what financial and other benefits our parents are able to muster to boost our ability to succeed.

In my view, to the degree that it is possible to talk of reconciliation at all, it must be talked of as a process. I cannot speak on behalf of anyone else, but as a white South African it seems to me this idea of reconciliation is only worth pursuing (if it is worth pursuing at all) if it is going to be part of a process that disturbs and unsettles me, that makes me feel uncomfortable and reminds me of my privilege and asks difficult questions about how I must respond to it. Questions that I sometimes feel at a loss to answer.

It will also remind me of how my own response to the demands for justice will always fall short (as, I believe, us humans always all fall short of the demands that justice make on us). It is a process that might force me to consider the possibility that I am, after all, not the hero of this story. But it may be a process in which I see the possibility of becoming a fully integrated human being and not just a cardboard cutout, not just a cipher for a past that I dare not engage with.

It seems to me it is when we are disturbed, made uncomfortable, when all the easy platitudes so carefully constructed to protect us from ourselves and our history have been abandoned, that something of what makes us human is revealed to ourselves, if not always to others.

But maybe this is not a process that should be tagged with the tainted and maybe impossible demand of “reconciliation”. Reconciliation is a term that implies two sides coming together and relinquishing something: fear; suspicion; hate; anger.

For those with economic and social power it would also require another, more material, “giving up” of power. But I am not sure that it is so easy or even possible to give up one’s power. No matter what I say or do I suspect I will not be able to escape who I am, how others see me and how I am treated. I suspect it is sentimental folly to believe you can escape the consequences of the social reality of which you are a product. And how will giving up actually change the way our world remains structured in a way that continues to produce yet more injustice?

Another question comes to mind. Is it ethically responsible to expect black South Africans who continue to experience structural racism at every level of society to give up hate, anger and suspicion? This is not a question I can or wish to answer.

This means I wish to leave open the questions of whether reconciliation is possible or desirable at all in present day South Africa.

I do know that I strongly believe that white South Africans should not pursue “reconciliation” if the aim is merely to comfort us and smooth over our interactions with black South Africans. That is not reconciliation, but a form of co-optation.

I assume that these musings on “reconciliation” will make many people uncomfortable or even angry and that some will want to take me to task for writing it. How dare I, as a white person who can never know how it feels to be black in this country, write about such things? How dare I question white privilege if I still live a relatively privileged life? Am I not being, yet again, a sanctimonious little prick (as one commentator recently called me), pretending that I am better than other South Africans?

I could argue that I would welcome and celebrate any conversation that might result from an engagement by those who feel I need to be taken to task. But this, too, may be a lie. I have not always and will probably not always welcomed being disturbed and questioned and made to feel uncomfortable about who I am and how I fall short of the ideals I set for myself. But in a week that South Africans have been urged to reflect on how we, too, could take Nelson Mandela’s vision forward, maybe its time to try a bit harder.

Such conversations — if I am able to engage in them — may well make me deeply uncomfortable and unsettle me. Maybe it will also disturb some of the assumptions of others who take part in it. And (maybe far too idealistically) I believe it is when we have such disturbing and uncomfortable conversations that we may begin to get to another kind of process which, in another more ideal world, we might have been tempted to call reconciliation.

Karen Zoid tribute for the late Nelson Mandela

This week, silence is appropriate (and silence is all I have, for now). Will be back next week. Leave you with a tribute from Karen Zoid.

To call Mandela a saint is to dishonour his memory as a fighter against injustice

Nelson Mandela was not a saint. We would dishonour his memory if we treated him as if he was one. Like all truly exceptional human beings he was a person of flesh and blood, with his own idiosyncrasies, his own blind spots and weaknesses. He was also a human being who decided to take political action to fight injustice – and in the process sacrificed much in the struggle against racial oppression.

It would dishonour the late Nelson Mandela to de-politicise his legacy and to pretend that his life was not synonymous with the ANC (as it then was) and the struggle against white privilege and domination. His brilliance must surely be found in the fact that he was a principled and hard-nosed politician who also had the dignity and the self-knowledge that drove him to try and  bridge the unjust divide between races created by colonialism and apartheid.


Nelson Mandela was first and foremost one of the greatest if not the greatest leader the ANC ever had. Much of what he did during his life he did in the name of the ANC. This was probably his greatest source of strength.

He was loyal to a fault, writing President Jacob Zuma a R1 million cheque a few days after Zuma was fired as Deputy President. This he did despite the fact that a few weeks earlier a court had found that Zuma’s “financial advisor”, Schabir Shaik, had solicited a bribe from an arms company on Zuma’s behalf and had also paid Zuma more than R1 million to ensure that Zuma would use his political clout to do favours for him in return. In this case Mandela’s loyalty to Zuma (and to the ANC) seemed to have trumped his disgust of corruption and nepotism.

Recognising this should not diminish him in our esteem. Instead it should remind us that he was somebody far more interesting and human than a saint. It is exactly because he was very human that his exceptional qualities come into focus so sharply.

As a politician he could be hard-nosed and steely – but always dignified. This often stood him in good stead. FW de Klerk found out that Mandela was not to be trifled with when Mandela responded to De Klerk’s opening statement at Codesa in a manner that started shifting the balance of power between the two men and between the ANC and the NP. Ahmed Kathrada has said that this was only one of two times that he saw Mandela lose his temper. But even then, the steely resolve and reasoned but cutting response to De Klerk’s remarks did Mandela proud. In that speech he said:

[De Klerk] has launched an attack on the African National Congress, and in doing so he has been less than frank. Even the head of an illegitimate, discredited, minority regime as his, has certain moral standards to uphold. He has no excuse, because he is a representative of a discredited regime, not to uphold moral standards. He has handled – and before I say so, let me say that no wonder the Conservative Party has made such a serious inroad into his power base. You understand why.

If a man can come to a conference of this nature and play the type of politics which are contained in his paper, very few people would like to deal with such a man. We have handled the question of Umkhonto we Sizwe in a constructive manner. We pointed out that this is one of the issues we are discussing with the Government. We had bilateral discussions but in his paper, although I was with him, I was discussing with him until about 20h20 last night, he never even hinted that he was going to make this attack. The members of the Government persuaded us to allow them to speak last. They were very keen to say the last word here. It is now clear why they did so. And he has abused his position because he hoped that I would not reply. He was completely mistaken. I am replying now. We are still to have discussions with him if he wants, but he must forget that he can impose conditions on the African National Congress and, I daresay, on any one of the political organisations here.

It was exactly because he was so principled and knew what he wanted that as President of the country he could also be remarkably humble and uncompromisingly principled. As President he displayed a majestic sense of right and wrong and an admirable respect for those who were not categorised as having the same race, sex, or sexual orientation than himself. He also reached out at those who are living with HIV.

In this he embodied the principle, first enunciated by the Constitutional Court in the judgment that declared invalid the criminalisation of same-sex sodomy, that equality at the very least demands respect for people who are different from oneself and at best demands a celebration of those differences.

Nelson Mandela’s displayed an astonishing and unique respect for the post-apartheid judiciary. Given the fact that he spent 27 years in jail after being sentenced to life imprisonment by the apartheid judiciary, he might easily have harboured some suspicions against old and new order judges alike. Yet, he understood that the success of South Africa’s new democracy also depended on the very judiciary, which had previously enforced apartheid legislation, often with enthusiasm and without any regard for justice.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Constitutional Court in 1995, he said the following:

The last time I appeared in court was to hear whether or not I was going to be sentenced to death. Fortunately for myself and my colleagues we were not. Today I rise not as an accused but, on behalf of behalf of the people of South Africa, to inaugurate a court South Africa has never had, a court on which hinges the future of our democracy.

Mandela then continued:

People come and people go. Customs, fashions, and preferences change. Yet the web of fundamental rights and justice which a nation proclaims, must not be broken. It is the task of this court to ensure that the values of freedom and equality which underlie our interim constitution – and which will surely be embodied in our final constitution – are nurtured and protected so that they may endure.

Given his history, and given the respect he commanded across the political spectrum by the time he became President of South Africa, Mandela could easily have objected when unelected judges of the Constitutional Court first declared his actions unconstitutional and invalid.

But this he did not do. Instead, he embraced the principle of constitutional supremacy and set the Constitutional Court on the road to becoming one of the most respected, perhaps even revered, courts in the world.

This happened in 1995, only one year after the advent of the new Constitution, when the newly established Constitutional Court declared invalid a provision of the Local Government Transition Act. The impugned provision bestowed power on the President to amend that Act, which had been duly passed by Parliament. President Mandela had relied on this provision to amend the Act.

The New National Party government (who then governed the Western Cape Province) challenged the validity of President Mandela’s decision on various grounds, including on the basis that the provision in the Act on which President Mandela had relied was unconstitutional. The Constitutional Court found that the provision was indeed unconstitutionally because it breached the separation of powers doctrine as it handed over the power to enact legislation to the President while the Constitution reserved this power for Parliament.

After the Constitutional Court handed down this ruling, President Mandela appeared on television to affirm his respect for the power of the Court to declare his actions unconstitutional and invalid. He also affirmed that he would respect and obey the decision of the Court. After all, the power of the Constitutional Court to nullify decisions of the President that did not comply with the Constitution lay at the heart of our system of constitutional supremacy.

By affirming that it was necessary for the legislative and executive branches of government to respect and obey the decisions of the judiciary, Mandela confirmed respect for the principle of checks and balances built into the Constitution, making it difficult if not impossible for his successors to question the validity of unpopular court judgments.

It was even more remarkable when, a few years later, a judge of the High Court inappropriately compelled Mandela to testify in open court about the circumstances which led the President to appoint a Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of the South African Rugby Football Union, he complied without fanfare.

Despite being the President of the country and despite being Mandela, he agreed to testify and to be subjected to cross-examination. The Constitutional Court later criticised the High Court for subjecting the sitting President to cross examination, calling it an “unusual” decision with “far-reaching implications, particularly because of its impact on the question of separation of powers and the comity between different arms of the state.”

The Constitutional Court could not find any cases in foreign jurisdictions in which a head of state had been compelled to give oral evidence before a court in relation to the performance of official duties. Mandela might well have baulked at being ordered by a High Court judge to give oral evidence and to face cross-examination, but he did not.

Mandela was not a saint, but he could well be described as the patron saint of South Africa’s democratic order. By signaling – in both words and deeds – that he respected the system of judicial review and that he accepted the principle that the Constitution does and should limit the powers of the other branches of government, he demonstrated the insight and wisdom of a leader that only truly fortunate nations are ever blessed with.

South Africa’s first democratic President, Nelson Mandela, in his own words

When my mother passed away, my world came tumbling down. How could this happen? At first, it felt impossible to speak about her passing or about her life. As our family gathered to mourn her passing at the age of 70, and after we hugged and cried and silently thought about our regrets of what we should have told her or done for her before she died, something happened. We started using her favourite sayings and turns of phrase and when one of us five siblings did this, a smile would come to all our lips.

This event taught me something important, I think: Sometimes words at first seem too blunt, potentially too self-serving, too clumsy, often too self-important and appropriating and too lacking in precision to accurately capture what you feel or how a person has affected your life. For me, the hours after my mother passed away was such a moment. This morning, as news of the passing away of the father of our nation reached me, felt like another. However, I recall how our mothers’ words soothed us, so in order to honour the memory of the late Nelson Mandela I assembled some of his quotes. The words of our late President testify more eloquently than I ever could to what a remarkable man he was.

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – The Long Walk to Freedom

“We stand here today as nothing more than a representative of the millions of our people who dared to rise up against a social system whose very essence is war, violence, racism, oppression, repression and the impoverishment of an entire people. I am also here today as a representative of the millions of people across the globe, the anti-apartheid movement, the governments and organisations that joined with us, not to fight against South Africa as a country or any of its peoples, but to oppose an inhuman system and sue for a speedy end to the apartheid crime against humanity.”- Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1993


“When there is danger, a good leader takes the front line; but when there is celebration, a good leader stays in the back of the room.” – in 2001 to Oprah.

“No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated. Any nation that is progressive is led by people who have had the privilege of studying. I knew we could improve our lives even in jail. We could come out as different men, and we could come out with two degrees. Educating ourselves was a way to give ourselves the most powerful weapon for freedom . . . the more informed you are, the less arrogant and aggressive you are.” – in 2001 to Oprah

“To spend 27 years at the prime of your life is a tragedy . . . but there are very positive aspects, too, because I had the opportunity to think about problems and to reflect on my mistakes. I also had the opportunity to read very widely, especially biographies, and I could see what men — sometimes from very humble beginnings — were able to lift themselves with their bootstrings and become international figures.” – in 1990 to US TV network

Many people in this country have paid the price before me and many will pay the price after me.” – November 1962 in his speech in mitigation of sentence.

“I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.” – from an unpublished autobiographical manuscript written in prison in 1975

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.” – Interview in 1994

A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.” – at the International Press Institute Congress in 1994

“I have never regarded any man as my superior, either in my life outside or inside prison.”  - 12 July 1976. Letter written to commissioner of prisons while on Robben Island

When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?” – speaking on HIV and AIDS in Norway in 2005.

“In South Africa, to be poor and black was normal, to be poor and white was a tragedy.”  - 1994, Long Walk to Freedom

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice.” – In a speech in 2005

“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
- Speaking at the launch of Britain’s Make Poverty History campaign.

“If the United States of America or Britain is having elections, they don’t ask for observers from Africa or from Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers.” – Date unknown

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” – Date unknown

“If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government.” - Speaking to South Africa’s trade union congress, July 1993

“A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones” – Long Walk to Freedom

“I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists. I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who said I was one.” – Larry King Live, 16 May 2000

“You sharpen your ideas by reducing yourself to the level of the people you are with and a sense of humour and a complete relaxation, even when you’re discussing serious things, does help to mobilise friends around you. And I love that.” – From an interview with Tim Couzens, Verne Harris and Mac Maharaj for Mandela: The Authorised Portrait , 2006, 13 August 2005

“Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Date unknown