Quote of the week

An ‘important purpose of section 34 [of the Constitution] is to guarantee the protection of the judicial process to persons who have disputes that can be resolved by law’ and that the right of access to court is ‘foundational to the stability of an orderly society. It ensures the peaceful, regulated and institutionalised mechanisms to resolve disputes, without resorting to self-help. The right of access to court is a bulwark against vigilantism, and the chaos and anarchy which it causes. Construed in this context of the rule of law and the principle against self-help in particular, access to court is indeed of cardinal importance’.The right guaranteed s34 would be rendered meaningless if court orders could be ignored with impunity:the underlying purposes of the right — and particularly that of avoidance of self-help — would be undermined if litigants could decide which orders they wished to obey and which they wished to ignore.

Plasket AJ
Victoria Park Ratepayers' Association v Greyvenouw CC and others (511/03) [2003] ZAECHC 19 (11 April 2003)
14 June 2007

The doors of Parliament not open to all

On Wednesday I attempted to take 30 US law students on a comparative Constitutional Law course to Parliament to listen to President Thabo Mbeki’s reply to his budget vote in the National Assembly. It was the same day that thousands of workers held a peaceful protest outside the main gates of Parliament.

We made arrangements to collect our tickets to the public gallery a day before the event, but when we arrived at the side gate of Parliament it was firmly locked. The polite but firm policeman informed me that all gates to Parliament had been locked on instructions form his superiors and that no one would be allowed in or out of the Parliamentary precinct for the next several hours.

This meant that I was barred from listening to my President in my Parliament answering his opposition critics. This seems to be in direct contravention of section 59 of the Constitution, which states that Parliament has a constitutional duty to conduct its business in an open manner and to allow the public access to its activities.

Yet, some power drunk fool decided that the workers, demonstrating peacefully more than a hundred meters away, posed such a mortal threat to all MPs and our President, that the gates of Parliament literally had to be locked against its own people.

Who made this heavy-handed decision? Did this person realise that he or she was sending a signal that Parliament and the President was so far removed from or even scared of the workers that it would lock the very doors of the institution against their own people?

The locking of the gates of Parliament on the very day that the President was speaking in the National Assembly, reminds me rather of the days of the apartheid regime when the President and Parliamentarians had good reason to fear the citizens of the country they were supposed to be governing.

It would be nice to think that the person who made this decision would get into serious trouble. Maybe the President – or more correctly, the Speaker – could have a word with someone so that the next time us ordinary people want to hear him speak, we will actually be allowed into the legislature.

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