Note to editors: The following speech was delivered in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) in Parliament today by the DA Member in the NCOP, George Michalakis MP, during the debate on Human Rights.
George Bizos in his autobiography, An Odyssey to Freedom, quotes Nelson Mandela, saying in 2001:
“The Constitution speaks of both the past and the future. It permits us to build a nation based on the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom, through constitutionalism and the rule of law. It describes the mechanisms and institutions which we have created to ensure that we achieve this. There are no shortcuts on the road to freedom. The constitution describes the path which we must and shall follow.”
These are profound words. It implies that there is something sacred about the principles underlying the Constitution and that we, as the people – and more so the leaders of this nation – must and shall follow it.
The Constitution grants citizens inalienable rights, such as:
The right to equality: Yes, there is a vast legacy of apartheid that needs to be addressed and this government should have made an honest effort to address it over the past 23 years.
How many billions that were supposed to be used to address the apartheid legacy got lost through corruption?
Is this legacy not prolonged because the ANC failed to address it in the past 23 years?
The right to life: A right denied to the citizens at Marikana and elsewhere across the country, brutally killed at the hands of the State. Every time our State kills one of us, it is denying us our fundamental right to life. One can argue that every single time that our State fails to protect us, they are also sharing in the guilt.
The right of freedom of expression: Where an artist’s work is defaced because he has dared to draw a penis on a democratically elected dictator who is driving a spear through the core of our democratic life and value system.
The right to access to information: With bills brought before Parliament in the previous term that was found to be unconstitutional. Ministers who do not answer to Parliament or to the public, but think that they are above the law and the Constitution.
The right to assemble, demonstrate, picket and petition: Time and again undermined by President Zuma and his riot police. Against students protesting, against private citizens raising their concerns and even against members of Parliament.
Political rights: Undermined by the alleged involvement of the ANC in so–called “war-room” tactics, to sabotage the opposition by printing false posters and hijacking the media.
The right to property: Undermined by the President’s recent foolish announcements about expropriations, despite clear opposition from the wiser factions of his Party and others.
The right to access to adequate housing: Felt every single day by millions of South Africans who have to either live in a dwelling that is falling apart with apartheid-style planning by the ANC with a toilet OUTSIDE, or no house at all because the money simply disappeared or you do not qualify because you are not a card carrying member of the ruling party.
The right to health care: Esidimeni.
The right to access to water: With 27 towns in the Free State alone experiencing this problem constantly due to nothing other than bad administration by ANC municipalities.
The right to access to social security: Where the only grants Minister Dlamini is concerned about is the one that comes in liquid form.
The right to education: Where we get excited about a pass rate of 72.5%, but fail to mention how many students dropped out on their way to matric, or were asked to let subjects stand over for the sake of numbers. We are failing a generation of students who are in desperate need of quality education, skills and jobs. A lost generation that, if we do not look after them, will carry the legacy of the ANC in the same manner that they will have to carry the legacy of apartheid.
All of this speaks to the heart of our right to human dignity.
Then there is just administrative action: Nkandla, the decision to withdraw from the ICC, and the disrespect shown for our Chapter 9 institutions. And then, probably the root of all the problems in the first place: Schedule 2, the President’s failure to stay true to his Oath of Office: to obey, observe and uphold the Constitution, promote all that will advance the Republic, protect and promote the rights of all South Africans, discharge his duties to the best of his abilities, do justice for all and to devote himself to the wellbeing of the Republic and all its people.
Chairperson, this Constitution is the inheritance that my generation receives from your generation. It is supposed to be the guideline, the road map for us to move forward. And yet, the President has given us the middle finger and this government has violated almost every single one of our most important rights.
President Mandela said: “The Constitution is a living document. Our understanding of its requirements will and must adapt over time. But the fundamental principles are and must be unchanging. Full understanding of how and why those principles were adopted will help us to ensure that we remain true to the solemn undertakings which we have made to each other and to those who follow us.”
Chairperson, it is a road shown to us by giants. You will note that 2017 is not only the year of OR Tambo, but that on 7 November 1917 another giant was born on MY side of the House, that made such a profound contribution to establish our democracy that President Mandela invited her to stand next to him when he signed it into law 20 years ago.
On 7 November 1917, Helen Suzman was born. Chairperson, whether you are a child of Helen Suzman or a child of OR Tambo, we share a common heritage: a set of values, of what we as progressive South Africans want to achieve. To safeguard the rights and freedoms of our Citizens as enshrined in the Constitution, to address the legacy of apartheid and to build an open opportunity society for every single individual.
The late Honourable Dene Smuts said that accountability for an MP should lie in the four C’s: conscience, country, Constitution and constituency. She makes no mention of Party. Because principles are above politics and you will find that the voters out there are ahead of most members in here: for them, it is about principles, a better life and a better country. It is not about the party banner under which Tambo stood, but the principles for which he stood.
Perhaps then, it is time for the children of Suzman and of Tambo to stand up, to stand united and to say: enough is enough. This, Chairperson, is the only way in which we can safeguard their legacy, our Constitution.
I thank you.