Casac, Judge Sachs weigh in on Sisulu's opinion piece

Casac said President Cyril Rampahosa's silence over Minister Lindiwe Sisulu's controversial opinion piece calling for the Constitution to be amended was concerning.

Minister of Human Settlements, Water & Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu at an inter-ministerial briefing on 24 March 2020 detailing how government will respond ahead of and during the 21-day lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Kayleen Morgan/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Various organisation and foundations have issued statements condemning the comments made by the Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu in her opinion piece.

These include the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac), Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Corruption Watch, the Defend Our Democracy campaign, Freedom Under Law, the Helen Suzman Foundation and Judges Matter.

Casac said President Cyril Rampahosa's silence over Sisulu's controversial opinion piece calling for the Constitution to be amended was concerning.

"The attack that Minister Sisulu has launched against the Constitution and rule of law and the scrofulous language that she used to describe members of the judiciary, really does need to be repudiated. It's really unfortunate that we have had absolute silence from the president who is the head of Cabinet and the head of the national executive who should be calling ministers into account and order for comments such as these that are made. You cannot escape the fact that Minister Sisulu is a member of Cabinet and there needs to be a condemnation on the highest office, and we have had absolute silence," said Casac executive director Lawson Naidoo.

The council points out that the Constitution is a framework set to guide the principles on how the country should be governed and said Sisulu launched an attack without giving examples on where the document falls short.

"Well, if it's taken over 28 years to reach this conclusion then one wonders what thought processes were involved in this. And it's a fundamental misrepresentation of what the Constitution is. The Constitution is a framework, a set of guiding principles that determine how South Africa needs to be governed, the allocation of responsibilities and checks and balances. She does not give any examples of where the Constitution has fallen short except to launch an attack on it as a document."

Naidoo said Sisulu's statements illustrated her lack of understanding of not only the Constitution but of the rule of law as well.

"She makes no mention of the fact that it is government and Parliament that are responsible for creating the laws, policies and implementing the strategies to realise the vision of the Constitution. So she seems to suffer from a total lack of understanding of what the Constitution is, what the rule of the rule of law is and the role of an independent judiciary that has stood South Africa so well, particularly in recent years in standing up to state capture and the authoritarianism from a government she served."

President Ramaphosa has yet to comment on the piece but Justice Minister Ronald Lamola wrote an opposing piece where he criticised Sisulu. Meanwhile, Minister of Energy Gwede Mantashe said the ANC saw nothing wrong with what Sisulu wrote.

"Well exactly... that's the very context that the acting chief justice was moved last week to hold a press conference because there was an absence of leadership from the president to stand this attack on the judiciary, the Constitution and rule of law.

"And if the President doesn't take action, the acting chief justice as the head of the judicial arm of the state has a responsibility to protect his colleagues in the judiciary and the constitution," said Naidoo.

Judge Albert “Albie” Sachs also weighed in on Sisulu's opinion piece and Zondo's response to it, saying Zondo spoke in a dignified way.

"I think he spoke with a lot of dignity, a lot of pride, not personally himself but for the institution, not just the Constitutional Court but the Supreme Court of Appeal and the high courts."

The former judge pointed out that the insults on the judiciary touched Zondo deeply and wounded the hundreds of judges that work tireless to uphold the Constitution.

"We have a couple of hundred judges now who have worked very hard and long hours in difficult circumstances, a bleeding country with enormous problems and the insults to the men and women acting as the judges really obviously reached deep into him. I think anyone who has been a judge, who helped to establish the new judiciary, a very transformed judiciary, very transformative Constitution... I think are deeply wounded by the attacks that were made and they are very shallow attacks but very insulting."

Some have publicly criticised Zondo for holding a press conference over Sisulu's piece but Sachs - who has served for 15-years on the Constitution Court - said Zondo's reaction to the opinion piece was justified.

"I served 15 years on the Constitution Court. I had colleagues like Dikgang Moseneke who did 10 years at Robben Island, Judge Pius Langa who was in the struggle, many other people who were profoundly deep in the struggle and in and out of jail. I think the response from the deputy chief justice is absolutely understandable".

Judge Sachs further goes on to say that he found what Sisulu said to be very insulting to the nation as a whole.

"I think its deeply insulting not only to the black Africans of the judiciary but to everybody, to the whole nation, to all of us who fought for freedom, who believed in human dignity, equality and freedom. Two years of hard constitutional assembly, I believe Minister Sisulu was one of the persons who voted for the Constitution, who was proud of it and who supported it at the time."