State power is for common good of all South Africans, united in diversity

South Africa is facing a time, perhaps unlike any other in our history. Never have we needed staunch and ethical leadership like we do now.

BANTU MNIKI Picture: FILE

Time and again, the Constitutional Court, under the leadership of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, has provided that leadership in a calm, methodical and thoughtful manner.

It is not the first time the Constitutional Court has been asked to clarify for, if not school, both parliament and the executive on their duties.

This time, the matter was whether the speaker of parliament, currently Baleka Mbete, was empowered within the law to grant a secret ballot on the motion of no-confidence against Jacob Zuma.

The short answer was, contrary to the speaker’s understanding, that she is empowered to do so. But the Constitutional Court has done more.

It has reminded us of what our constitutional democracy is all about.

“Public office, in any of the three arms, comes with a lot of power. That power comes with responsibilities whose magnitude ordinarily determines the allocation of resources for the performance of public functions.

“The powers and resources assigned to each of these arms do not belong to the public office-bearers who occupy positions of high authority therein. They are therefore not to be used for the advancement of personal or sectarian interests.

“Amandla awethu, mannda ndiashu, maatla ke arona or matimba ya hina [power belongs to us] and mayibuye iAfrika [restore Africa and its wealth] are much more than mere excitement-generating slogans. They convey a very profound reality that state power, the land and its wealth all belong to ‘we the people’, united in our diversity.

“These servants are supposed to exercise the power and control these enormous resources at the beck and call of the people.

“Since state power and resources are for our common good, checks and balances to ensure accountability enjoy pre-eminence in our governance system.”

Clause 7, of the United Democratic Movement vs Speaker of National Assembly and Others (CCT89/17) [2017] ZACC 21 (22 June 2017)

That’s it right there!

For a moment, I find myself asking why it is that we do not have a president who is this erudite on matters that concern the responsibilities of public office?

Why could we not, by some miracle, find ourselves with a speaker who is this clear about the demands of public office?

Why could we not find members of parliament, government officials, civil servants and citizens who have a deep-seated understanding of the main responsibilities of public office?

Most politicians imagine that leadership is about contest, about who holds power, particularly State power. This is a view which, from the onset, betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the responsibilities of state power.

It is a view, which in effect, is primarily concerned with the control of resources and the distribution of those resources through access to state power. It is because of this fundamental misunderstanding of the responsibilities of state power that those who manage to get hold of it, seek first to satisfy the appetites of those who help them win state power.

This misunderstanding betrays the true reason for the birth of our constitutional democracy and the idea of the “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

I am afraid, it is possible that even most citizens imagine that leadership is about contest for state power, and that those who win are expected to legitimately distribute the benefits among themselves.

It is a misunderstanding we cannot afford to continue to take or ignore, let alone paddle among ourselves.

The truth of the matter is that state power is for the “common good” of all South Africans, “united in diversity”. This should be our mantra, day in and day out.

The fact that we have a Chief Justice and a Constitutional Court who are this conversant with the demands of public office is reason enough to keep our hope alive, and work together for a better South Africa!

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