28 August 2012
South Africa cannot be defined by the events of the past two weeks which unfolded at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in the North West. We remain deeply saddened at the tragic loss of life and are shocked at how the tragic events unfolded before our very eyes.
As a nation we have achieved so much, we cannot allow our country to be defined by this past fortnight.
We are a country that came together to overcome the darkness of apartheid to grow into an inclusive society lauded the world over. We are still the beacon of hope for many developed and developing countries around the world. People continue to respect and admire what South Africa has achieved in terms of maintaining a stable and socially cohesive democracy.
Others still look to us as a role model. When asked to advise the Egyptians on a new model for their Constitution, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States said: “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution, if I were drafting a Constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the Constitution of South Africa.”
This confidence and admiration of our democracy was expressed during an interview with Egypt's Al-Hayat television earlier this year. She said unlike the U.S. Constitution: “That (Constitution) was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights had an independent judiciary.… It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recent than the U.S. Constitution.”
Ginsburg is neither the first nor the only one to admire and praise our Constitutional democracy. Cass Sunstein, the American legal scholar who heads the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs referred to it as ''the most admirable constitution in the history of the world”.
These highly respected individuals recognise that the new democratic government that took over in 1994 committed itself to the rule of law. The brutal apartheid legacy helped inform government policies and its approach to socio-economic challenges and human rights issues.
This new approach and commitment to human rights was expressed in former President Nelson Mandela’s famous words: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another”.
As we reflect on the events of the last two weeks, we remain steadfast in our commitment to democracy and the rule of law. The rule of law according to the United Nations (UN) "... refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards”.
Addressing the media on Friday evening, 17 August 2012, President Jacob Zuma reasserted the values which we subscribe to. He stated: “These events are not what we want to see or want to become accustomed to, in a democracy that is bound by the rule of law, and where we are creating a better life for all our people.”
We do not expect such incidents, particularly in a country where there is a high level of organisation within the labour movement. We have trade unions with many years of experience in organising workers, within the framework of the labour laws of the country.”
The events at Lonmin are out of step with our society, it is not a true reflection of who we are as a people and a nation. Government has acted swiftly and immediately announced a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the circumstances around the shooting at Lonmin.
President Jacob Zuma and other government ministers have met with the families of those who died and the striking mine workers. Our message to the world is clear, South Africa remains open for business. Since the advent of democracy we have maintained sound labour relations, economic and financial system.
Our response has shown that South Africa is a country where the rule of law prevails. Addressing the National Assembly during a special debate on the incident, Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa recalled that we are a constitutional democracy: “Painful moments like these force us to trace our steps back and recall the founding principles of our democratic order. The Constitution of the Republic as adopted in 1996 is our lodestar in the execution of our duties. The police as part of our security services are always and at all material times guided by the Constitution of the Republic.”
President Jacob Zuma has since announced the commissioners of the judicial commission of inquiry into the Marikana tragedy and the terms of reference of the commission. The commission was appointed in terms of section 84(2) (f) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. The President directed it to “investigate matters of public, national and international concern arising out of the events in Marikana which led to the deaths of approximately 44 people, the injury of more than 70 persons and the arrest of more than 250 people”.
The recent events should motivate us to reflect on our remarkable democracy that helped shape the world and inspired governments and institutions in resolving their differences. Last week’s violence must never be allowed to happen. Just over eighteen years ago it seemed all but impossible that South Africa could be peacefully transformed into a multiracial democracy.
We emerged from an oppressive and divisive past, built on a colonial legacy. We achieved the impossible and successfully forged a new national identity based on national unity.
These are the true values of our society; we need to find them again.
Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)