President Cyril Ramaphosa has warned that the recent attacks on the country’s judiciary should not be taken lightly, warning that these shake the very foundations of South Africa’s constitutional democracy.
“Unless supported by evidence, such claims undermine confidence in our courts, and weaken our Constitutional order,” wrote the President in his weekly newsletter on Monday.
This as there have been utterances directed at the judiciary, in which some judges are accused, without any evidence, of pursuing interests other than the cause of justice. Judges have been accused of political agendas and some have even been accused of accepting bribes.
“We should therefore be concerned when those who occupy prominent positions in society make statements that demonstrate a disdain for the basic principles of our Constitution and the institutions established to defend our democracy,” he said.
The President expressed concern at allegations that are without evidence saying that they are deeply disturbing for two reasons.
“Firstly, if such claims were true, it would mean that there are some within the judiciary who are failing to uphold the values and principles with which they have been entrusted.”
He said South Africa’s Constitution makes provision for such a possibility. The National Assembly is empowered to remove judges who are found by the Judicial Service Commission to be guilty of gross misconduct.
“The Judicial Service Commission is a carefully constituted body, which includes representatives from the judiciary but also the legal profession, academia and Parliament. There are clear processes established in law to deal with allegations of misconduct against members of the judiciary,” he said.
He urged those who had evidence of any wrongdoing by any judge to make use of the avenues provided in the Constitution and law to ensure that appropriate action is taken.
The claims against the judiciary, he said, were also disturbing in that, without the presentation of evidence to support the claims, and unless referred to the relevant authorities, all such allegations do is to undermine the judiciary and the important function that it performs in the country’s democracy.
“Of course, South Africa is a free country, with a Constitution that guarantees freedom of expression and opinion. However, when some in positions of responsibility choose to use those freedoms to undermine our Constitutional order, they should be reminded of the possible consequences of their utterances,” he said.
Maintaining Constitutional order
One of these possible consequences is the erosion of trust in the judiciary and constitutional order.
“In all our actions, we need to take heed of Section 165(3) of the Constitution, which says: ‘no person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of the courts,” he said.
“We interfere with the functioning of our courts and weaken the rule of law when we attack the judiciary. Our failure to implement our courts’ injunctions weakens our constitutional democracy.”
He added that the public has a responsibility to the generations of its forebears, many of whom gave their lives so that South Africa may have a democratic Constitution.
“We have a responsibility to the millions of South Africans who look to the Constitution for protection and relief,” he said.
The democratic Constitution, he said, “is the product of years of sacrifice and struggle”.
“Many South Africans endured great pain and hardship, and many lost their lives, so that we could live in a democracy where all may enjoy equal rights,” said President Ramaphosa.
The President said the values, principles and rights contained in the Constitution are neither trivial, nor abstract.
These he said, directly affect the daily lives of millions of people, preventing the arbitrary use of power, providing protection to the vulnerable, and advancing the access of all people to shelter, water, health care, education and social support.
“The Constitution is also vital to maintaining a system of checks and balances to prevent the abuse and concentration of power to the detriment of the people. The three arms of the state – the legislature, the executive and the judiciary – each have a role to play in ensuring accountability and adherence to the rule of law.
“Without these checks and balances, without each arm of the state fulfilling its responsibility, without adherence to the Constitution, our democracy is vulnerable and worthless,” he said.