Picture: CONSTITUTION HILL
Picture: CONSTITUTION HILL

We are incessantly told that we have "the best constitution in the world". The events of the past few years, and particularly those playing out at present, are evidence that this claim is unfounded. When the Constitution was crafted all those years ago, the drafters, although building in checks and balances to limit excessive executive power through the creation of chapter 9 institutions, failed to make adequate provision for an eventuality that they obviously had no idea would ever occur — the president of the republic going rogue.

It has two fatal flaws, both of which have encouraged a vast patronage network to develop and, in turn, led directly to the malaise we now find ourselves in. The first is the electoral system whereby elected representatives are beholden to the party they represent, rather than to the voters who put them there. This will, for the umpteenth time, result in ANC members closing ranks around the president to shield him from censure, thus rendering the mooted vote of no confidence in the president a futile exercise.

The second and more serious flaw relates to the extensive powers given to the president to appoint (or fire) high-ranking officials in all manner of organs of state at his sole discretion.

As if this were not troubling enough, the president (or his handlers) can indirectly influence appointments in other state agencies through instructions given to malleable ministers. This tactic has been successfully used to have the president’s friends and benefactors appointed to the boards of numerous state-owned enterprises and agencies.

The Constitution thus needs an overall. As a start, the late Dr Frederik van Zyl Slabbert’s report on electoral reform, published in 2003 and left to gather dust, should be reconsidered.

Second, changes to the powers of the president to make appointments and the option of voters to elect the president directly need to be debated. Unfortunately, we can no longer trust the ANC, which got us into this mess in the first place, to extract us from it by doing the honourable thing and putting the interests of the country and its citizens before the party and its venal leader.

All hope of saving SA from further calamity is now firmly on the shoulders of its citizenry.

Roger GodsmarkPietermaritzburg

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