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Giliomee: SA needs different constitution to address economic crisis properly

Sep 08 2017 06:00
Carin Smith

Stellenbosch - Without a "proper" constitution South Africa will never be able to properly address the economic crisis, according to historian and political scientist Hermann Giliomee.

"Experience has shown that liberty and equality do not go together in a highly divided society. Every time you have liberalisation in a highly divided society you get things like capital flight happening," said Giliomee, speaking as part of a panel discussion at the annual Rode-Reim Real Estate Conference near Stellenbosch. 

Giliomee said that, while South Africa had "one of the most corrupt governments on a large scale" it still enjoyed a free press.

However, with the South African society "on the brink of facing serious constraints", he said the country did not have an "effective army" to handle a (civil) crisis. 

South Africa could, said Giliomee, in its current situation only have what he termed "coherence through (political) alliances" - something that he regarded as highly unlikely to be achieved.

"We have a major structural and constitutional crisis. Our Constitution is not the right one if it allowed President Jacob Zuma to entrench himself. The Constitution does not protect against a corrupt president," he said.

"In 1994 the Constitution was drafted to ensure the National Party would keep a certain number of seats in Parliament with the ANC in the majority, and Nelson Mandela as president, as well as a successor as wise as Mandela. We have the wrong Constitution as it made it possible to have Zuma as president, when he should never have become president."

He said the electoral process was the most important part of the South African Constitution, and that Zuma had "almost done more harm to the ANC than to SA".

Economic exclusion

Amanda Gouws, professor of political science at Stellenbosch University, was another member of the panel discussing the topic "South Africa after Zuma: where to next?"

She pointed out that about 18 million people in SA live on $2 (about R26) per day.

"Many South Africans live excluded from the economy and the democratic system, as well as (living) under traditional leadership. Because people are excluded in this way, we are nearing a situation of no governance, where a small elite enrich themselves at the cost of all else," said Gouws.

Gouws said a "liberal democratic system" had been superimposed over a situation where "people are excluded".

"The student riots demonstrated this and brought (the issue of) settler/colonialism to the foreground. It leads to protests being at the order of the day as many people are barely surviving. We really need to think about this."

Gouws said the issue of factionalism was very important.

"Zuma governs through patronage and if 'Mrs Zuma' (Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) is elected it could lead to a split in the ANC, with dirty tricks at the order of the day, political assassinations and more," said Gouws.

She emphasised that the politics of coalition is very difficult.

Liberal democratic constitution

"I do not agree (with Giliomee) that we have the wrong constitution. I think we must look at the electoral system," said Gouws. 

In her view, the people of South Africa should vote for the president. It should not be decided by Parliament.

"We have a liberal democratic constitution with all the oversight institutions. It has now become about the capture of these state institutions. I don't think there is a lot the Constitution can do about state capture. What is needed is a change in the Constitution about the way Parliament elects the president," she said.

"The EFF campaigns for the expropriation of land without compensation. So civil war is possible if we do not reconstruct the economy."

The third member of the panel was historian and political scientist RW Johnson. He emphasised that sustainable economic growth was the only thing that could help the plight of "the excluded".

"It is difficult to redistribute in a situation of zero economic growth. The 'Mugabe option' is always lurking. He told the IMF to 'go to hell' and printed his own money. Today the man in the street in Zimbabwe trusts the US (dollar) more than the Zimbabwean government is trusted," said Johnson.

"However, I personally don't think it is likely for SA to take the Zimbabwe route."

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