Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng says South Africa can only enjoy change and increased growth if those charged with responsibility fully understand their roles and how to turnaround the prevailing situation for a better society.
Mogoeng said the reason why South Africa has taken long to advance the interests of the black majority since the dawn of democracy is that those charged with the responsibility to do so failed to execute their duties effectively and on time.
The Chief Justice said this during a media briefing after he delivered a public lecture titled: “Transformative Constitutionalism” at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein last Friday.
“You don’t unseat people who have resisted getting out of power for centuries and think that they will automatically give you what you want,” said Mogoeng after addressing a packed Economics Auditorium at the university.
“When there’s an opportunity to preserve your interests, even if it’s to the disadvantage of others, you’ll do so. Therefore, those charged with responsibility should drive transformative constitutionalism and understand the dynamics at play,” he added.
The eloquent Mogoeng defined ‘Transformative Constitutionalism’ as using the constitution or a country’s supreme law as a tool to move from an unacceptable position to a better one in terms of equality and access to resources.
And with particular reference to South Africa, he said it simply means rejecting the legacy of apartheid.
Turning to the reasons why the country has taken long to ensure the lives of the black majority improved and have more access to resources, he noted South Africa had taken long to learn from the mistakes of other African countries, resulting in it repeating some of them.
“You see, what should have been guarded against to make sure that transformation happens among other things is the conscientisation of all in leadership positions about what happened in other African countries. As soon as you come in and you are hungry, food will be made available to you according to the assessment of how far your gluttony or your appetite for food of all kinds can stretch.
“It can come in the form of directorships or free shares and suddenly, the vibrant and visionary and committed leader that you were a few years back is talking a language that is irreconcilable with what they stood for,” he explained.
The Chief Justice indicated the slow rate of change or lack of it, should be blamed on both black and white South Africans because those expected to push for change failed to play their part and those who were supposed to accept it, have been resisting it.
Such attitudes will not help the country because it will remain a highly unequal society where people continue to fight for resources instead of utilising them to develop the country.
“So, the blame is on we, South Africans. We have failed, black and white, to own up to our responsibilities and those of us in positions of leadership have failed to do what our responsibilities, sourced from the constitution, demand of us to do. That is why there isn’t much movement.
“Change happens, especially when we can inspire one another to commit to change. So, there’s so much more that we should have done much earlier that we didn’t do and that is why very little change has happened,” noted the Chief Justice.
He expressed disappointment that municipalities, which are supposed to be one of the main vehicles that could be used to promote transformation, were failing in terms of their operations and delivering quality services to the people.
He added there is no justification for the failure of most municipalities to achieve clean audits because their services are readily needed and therefore resources should always be directed where they are needed.
“Think about the municipalities… why is it that only 18 out of about 257 municipalities have clean audits? How do you explain that? There’s a commitment to transform and municipalities are one of the many instruments through which to transform. Who are we blaming for the potholes? Who are we blaming for the failure to pay Eskom what municipalities should have paid Eskom so that it is functional and operational? Who are we blaming for some of the things?” he asked.
On the issue of social grants as a means to uplift the less privileged, Mogoeng said while it could be a noble idea, it’s not economically sustainable in the long term. He suggested that able bodied people should be given the means of production so they become self-sustainable and not continually rely on the state.
The country should start considering giving social grants to the elderly and others who are not physically able to fend for themselves, he concluded.