Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
This week in the Constitutional Court a judgement was made that has changed the landscape of South African politics irrevocably. I am proud that this judgment was the product of a long and principled fight by one man, who inspired a team to work, not for money, but for the principle of expanding democratic participation.
That man is Dr Mario GR Oriani-Ambrosini, a Member of Parliament in the IFP, who previously served as my ministerial advisor for the ten years I served as Minister of Home Affairs. My position in Cabinet entitled me to appoint two advisors, but I appointed only Dr Ambrosini, for his work ethic, stamina and productivity could not be matched by a team of advisors, while his skill – which struck fear into the heart of our opponents – was comprehensive.
Thus, when Dr Ambrosini joined our team in the National Assembly as a national representative of the people, I knew he would make his signature mark on South Africa’s Parliament. I was not wrong. During his very first sitting in the National Assembly, Dr Ambrosini raised a Point of Order questioning the Rules of Parliament.
Being a constitutional lawyer, and one of the crafters of South Africa’s Constitution, his technical mind engaged the rules that would govern his work as an MP and questioned whether they were good enough, and working well enough, to ensure that individual MPs can fulfil their full constitutional mandate.
What he discovered was that the constitutional right of MPs to introduce draft legislation in the National Assembly was being obstructed by the Rules of Parliament, which forced MPs to first seek permission to do so from a Committee on Private Members’ Legislative Proposals. The Committee, dominated by ANC MPs, could bury any legislative proposal at will, effectively preventing it from seeing the light of day, or being presented in Parliament for discussion, consideration and debate.
For years, the Committee has been seen as the graveyard of bills brought by individual MPs from the opposition, and even from the ruling party’s own back benches. My own legislative proposal, to split the powers of the executive into a President as the ceremonial Head of State and a Prime Minister as the Head of Government, got no further than this Committee. Thus it never received broad public debate.
You, the citizens of South Africa, were never afforded the opportunity to consider whether having a President that bows to party political dictates and gets embroiled in and tainted by political infighting is the best international representative of our country. Wouldn’t it be better if South Africa’s President was above politics? Is a stadium of ANC cadres at Mangaung best suited to decide for fifty million South Africans who should be our Head of State? These questions should have been for you to decide.
Knowing his unique talents, the IFP appointed Dr Ambrosini to the Committee on Private Members’ Legislative Proposals in the hope that he could petition for many more valuable proposals to see the light of day. Instead, Dr Ambrosini sought to change the system.
With my full support and admiration, he approached the Speaker of the National Assembly, pointing out that the Rules of Parliament were interfering with the constitutional right and obligation of Members of Parliament. The Speaker disagreed and a long process of petition and discussion ensued during which Dr Ambrosini would not relent. He understood that a democratic principle was at stake.
When no other option but the legal option remained, he managed to inspire a team of lawyers to work pro bono and the matter went all the way to the High Court. Regrettably, the High Court ruled against the application, and the subsequent appeal was dismissed with costs. Against advice born of defeat and concern, Dr Ambrosini appealed to the Constitutional Court.
On Tuesday this week, with very little notice, a panel of Constitutional Court Judges presided over by Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke handed down judgement in the Constitutional Court declaring the Rules of Parliament unconstitutional insofar as they prevent individual MPs from introducing draft bills in the National Assembly without advance majority permission.
Permission to introduce draft legislation is already granted by the Constitution. No Committee has a right to refuse it.
In a press conference immediately after the ruling, Dr Ambrosini said, “This judgement is a game-changer in our parliamentary democracy and takes South African democracy onto a new and higher level of engagement, which is finally on par with all established democracies of the world. This judgement enables all MPs to be all that which the Constitution and the electorate expects them to be and for them to do the job for which they are empowered by the Constitution, trusted by the voters and paid by the taxpayers.”
That, really, is the crux of the matter. Citizens of this country should be able to engage their public representatives on issues of importance to them and petition their public representatives to influence favourable change through legislative proposals. Constitutionally, your MP has the right and the duty to table draft bills in Parliament. Through your engagement and lobbying, those bills should reflect your interests.
Up until this ground-breaking judgement, only Cabinet Ministers and Deputy Ministers have been able to conceive, develop, draft and introduce laws in the National Assembly. If you wanted your interests protected or promoted through legislation, you would have to petition a Minister who, first, is compelled to toe their party line, and, second, is inundated with the responsibilities of their line function. How often have your letters to a Minister gone unanswered? My own have. How often have you even written to a Minister?
Now, because an IFP MP had the courage and tenacity to pursue litigation all the way to the Constitutional Court based on a principle, you can petition your own representative, in whatever political party, to develop legislation in your own interests. If they act on your behalf, support them. If they ignore you, move on and take your vote with you.
For the first time in South Africa’s democracy, the electorate will be able to judge the performance of their individual MPs and choose which party to support based on the degree to which their public representatives actually represent their voice and serve their interests. It is no longer about voting for a party that broadly supports your personal views and then hoping that for the next five years they will do and say what you would have done and said, had you been in a position of power.
Now, it is about coming on board with a party that seems to align with your own views and beginning to engage them, petition them and lobby them to say and do what you would say and do in their position, because they are your voice. We, your public representatives, are the voice of the people. It is not for us to decide what that voice is saying. It is for you to tell us.
This is a serious deviation from the ANC’s philosophy of shaping the will of the people to suit the will of the ANC leadership. It is a triumph for the IFP’s philosophy of governance from the ground up, where citizens direct their leaders through constant engagement, mutual respect, and the full recognition of the fact that we are here at your behest, on your payroll, for your interests. We are the servants of the people.
To celebrate this era of enhanced democratic engagement between Members of Parliament and you, the people we serve, the IFP is launching a separate parliamentary website which will help you identify the right IFP MP to carry your particular cause, and give you all the contact details you need to get in touch with them one on one. I encourage you to join the IFP’s mailing list by clicking here so that you’ll be the first to know when our site goes live. You can also join us on Facebook and Twitter.
The IFP is immensely proud of the victory for democracy achieved this week.
This is indeed a game-changer.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Ms Liezl van der Merwe MP, Press Officer to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP, on 082 729 2510.