Daniel Plaatjies Launches Protecting the Inheritance with Ngoako Ramatlhodi at Wits Writing Centre
Professor Daniel Plaatjies started off the launch of his new book, Protecting the Inheritance: Governance and Public Accountability in Democratic South Africa, at the Wits Writing Centre, by repeating the question he has been asked in recent interviews on radio and television, namely what is meant by “The Inheritance”? He explained that it relates to the values enshrined in the South African Constitution adopted in 1996 and how we as citizens should ensure good governance and public accountability.
Plaatjies drew on a few contributors to reflect on these issues in the various chapters as, in the words of an African proverb, “No one head holds all the wisdom”. He wanted to reflect different views and make the subject matter accessible.
Plaatjies stressed that without a citizenry that respects laws and the Constitution and practises good values, no one in power can be held to good governance and accountability. Citizens need to be protective of these values and hold officials accountable.
Introducing the keynote speaker, Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, Advocate Ngoako Ramatlhodi, Plaatjies noted that he has a particular portfolio that deals with non-law-abiding citizens. Plaatjies feels that we have a somewhat delinquent society, evidenced by the disregard for seemingly small misdemeanours like littering, as well as larger issues such as violence and road rage.
In his speech, Ramatlhodi said that the present generation in South Africa forms a bridge between the past and the future, which presents a challenging and difficult situation. He had decided to focus his address on the judiciary and its limitations. Are there in fact limitations? The courts are as bound by the Constitution as the legislature and the executive. There is a school of thought that some clauses in the Constitution cannot be altered, but Ramatlhodi hold a different view in that, if the prescribed procedures are followed, the legislature can amend the Constitution, which brings us back to the question of accountability and mandate. If there is a 75% majority, with both houses concurring, then the courts may not legitimately throw out the amendment.
Ramatlhodi stressed the need for the judiciary to act with the necessary restraint and for its officers to respect the separation of powers in carrying out their duties and upholding the law without fear or favour. The legislature and executive are bound by the decisions of the judiciary and, if they disagree, they have to appeal to a higher court. In his chapter in the book he discusses some instances where the judiciary may have crossed over into others’ territory.
Plaatjies then touched on a few other issues dealt with in the book: the “judification” of politics, where the judiciary becomes more involved in the political arena and the politicisation of the judiciary, when politicians interfere in the judiciary.
Questions and comments were then taken from the audience. Some audience members felt that there seems to be an overall laziness in arriving at political conclusions. Citizens should avoid being swept away by opinions and apply their minds to interpreting information. It was hoped this book would manage to influence readers in this direction. For example, there is a danger that, if popular opinion on capital punishment prevails, it may result in South Africa taking a step backwards.
It was questioned by audience members whether we can really say that we have a democracy if the majority of the people are poor and illiterate and vulnerable to being coerced as to whom they vote into power.
In a constitutional system, judges are inherently involved in the political arena (as in the US, where politicians are often appointed as judges). However, the point was raised that they still need to be mindful of the limitations of their powers.
Plaatjies said that all these questions are answered in the twelve chapters of Protecting the Inheritance, but sometimes one will have to look for them as they may be inferred rather than obvious.
Ramatlhodi remarked that the public is not without remedy – the institutions exist to serve the people, not the other way around. Once again he emphasised the need for an active citizenry which is alert and involved – one that takes responsibility and holds institutions to account.