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
6 January 2007

Robert McBride and the Rule of Law

Robert McBride is one of those men that white people of a certain kind love to hate. An “uppity coloured”, some would have called him if it was not so obviously politically incorrect to do so.

It is therefore understandable that when he was involved in an accident under dubious circumstances, the first impulse of his comrades at work was to try and protect him.

No blood test was taken after the accident, despite the fact that several witnesses have sworn that McBride was very drunk. Statements of the police about the investigation into the accident have also been at best vague and at worst misleading.

The problem is that this kind of attitude – although easy to explain – is deeply problematic because it undermines the Rule of Law on which our democracy is based.

When state officials act as if the interest of one individual or of a political party is more important that obeying the law, it eats away at the very fabric of our society.

It says that some among us are not subject to the same laws as the rest of us thereby undermining respect for the law and for the state.

The Constitutional Court has often emphasised the importance of the Rule of Law – a founding value set out in section 1 of the Constitution – and has often relied on the Rule of Law to declare invalid acts or omissions by the state.

I had initially thought that this emphasis on the Rule of Law was a cop-out. Why go on and on about a pretty obvious and vague notion such as the Rule of Law, when there is a Bill of Rights to interpret and apply?

But now it seems as if the Constitutional Court has been rather wise in emphasising the importance of the Rule of Law for our developing democracy.

If there is no respect for the Rule of Law, the Party or the Leader becomes more important than the rules according to which we are supposed to live our lives. And soon after this the only thing that is respected by ordinary citizens and politicians alike. is naked power: who has it and who can use it.

The end result is that rules and the institutions that are supposed to guarantee the democracy lose their legitimacy and influence and survivor of the fittest becomes the order of the day. Life becomes nasty, brutish and short unless one is aligned with the Jacob Zuma or Thabo Mbeki of the day.

Those officials protecting McBride might think that they are doing the right thing because McBride is on the right side of history – unlike his detractors who probably enthusiastically supported apartheid.

But what they are doing is undermining the very essence of our democracy for which McBride ostensibly sacrificed so much. In that way they are doing a disservice to McBride and to every single citizen of South Africa.

If McBride was a true democrat and a true man of principle, he would not allow his supporters to abuse the law just to evade responsibility for what seems from news reports at least like an irresponsible and stupid act.

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