Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
In Wednesday’s Presidency Budget Vote, I quoted the Minister of Co-Operative Government, the Honourable Sicelo Schiceka, who said that SA is one country with one President and "no one is expected to be out of tune" when briefing journalists about the possibility of provinces being scrapped. I expressed my hope that the Presidency would staunchly defend our hard-won constitutional settlement. My colleague Mr Athol Trollip, the leader of the Opposition, also expressed similar sentiments.
But one actually must pause for a moment here. We are talking about a fundamental amendment to the Constitution; a major change to the system of how and the means by which we are governed.
The three-tier system of governance comprising national, provincial and local arms of government was envisaged in the constitution-drafting process to suit our purpose best.
Constitution-drafting is, by its nature, not a function of the ruling-party. The system, we believed, would bring political decision-making closer to the individual by setting up a network of political structures that compete with the central government and prevent power from being centralised too heavily.
As a result, today, we have a DA-led Western Cape, an IFP Official Opposition in KwaZulu-Natal and Cope is the Official Opposition in a cluster of provinces. To amend the constitution to jettison provinces would be to alter the quasi-federal – and multiparty – character of the constitution.
The ruling party is too quick to blame the quasi-federal model for its own failures in service delivery. The ANC has always been dedicated to Minister’s Schiceka’s narrowly defined notion of South Africa as "one nation", a nation of masses who have apparently reconciled their historical and ethnic differences and who ostentatiously hold the same political opinions. To support federalism means for the ruling party to reject this vision and to deny the very diversity South Africa is made of.
It is for this reason that our quasi-federal model, at least in theory, secured a fragile balance of power. That is also why the IFP ensured during the transition process that provinces were created in principle. The system we have in South Africa today is a far cry from what the IFP and I originally envisaged. It is a hybrid where provinces are endowed with all the appearances of a federal system – their own legislatures, executives and administrative capacities – but, at the same time, are accorded almost no policy-making power by the constitution. It is this anomaly, I believe, which needs to be debated, addressed and amended.
Only federalism, I maintain, has the capacity to minimise political coercion, enhance democratic participation and advance human liberty in our country.
This brings me directly to another related fundamental issue which is rippling across the surface: the incremental and steady manner in which the ruling-party is disregarding democratic procedure, protocol and safeguards. The really crisp point this week was the executive’s blatant disregard for the role of Parliament. The Constitution prescribes "that all executive organs of state in the national sphere of government are accountable to it" and that it "maintain(s) oversight of national executive authority".
If a fundamental change to the Constitution is being considered by the ruling-party, Parliament is the place to make such an announcement – not a party rally, a shopping mall, a church or even to Debra Patter on Third Degree. MPs, the people’s representatives, should be the first to know. It cannot be right that a Minister canvasses this idea with journalists before making an announcement in parliament.
On a related note, I was fascinated by the disdain exhibited by ANC members’ when, during the State of the Nation debate (and in my online letter of May 8), I relayed how President Olusegun Obasanjo, a member of the African Union Monitoring Team, conveyed to the Chairperson of the IEC my complaint about ballot printing in the election and which was never responded to.
I also told members that the IFP National Council met with the Chairperson of the IEC and the Commission last year and I had presented an aide memoire pointing out the many irregularities that had taken place in previous elections. The IEC promised to revert back to us, but they never did. The jeers from the ANC benches were obviously meant to try and portray my party and me as bad losers.
Whilst I know the results are fixed, I aver that every vote counts and that a genuinely "free and fair" election cannot be like an impressionist painting (that reasoning expired in 1994). This mindset leads, stealth-like, to a gradual erosion of the democratic process:autocracy in instalments. I contend that the slide of democracy in Zimbabwe began just as surreptitiously: there rarely is a "big bang" moment when a democracy falters.
When my colleagues from other opposition parties and I met with the Deputy-President and the ANC Chief Whip last week we, amongst other items, made our concern about election irregularities crystal clear. I hope this – and the concern I raised about the manner in which Minister Sicelo Schiceka’s announcement was made – will be listened too and heeded.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Liezl van der Merwe, 083 611 7470.