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Response to the President’s State of the Nation Address (SoNA) by Minister Jeff Radebe, MP, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, 19 Feb 2013

Honourable Members,

This year’s State of the Nation Address (SoNA) is significant in many respects. Not only does it reflect on the strides we have made and challenges we have encountered in the past year. More importantly, it also provides an important yardstick by which the country’s transition from apartheid colonialism to a National Democratic Society must be measured. 

This assessment becomes critical as we approach 20 years anniversary of our democracy. A concise and an honest reflection of where we come from, gives us a better understanding of our destiny postulated by the National Development Plan (NDP). 

I am sure I am speaking for everyone in this House when I say the National Development Plan has succeeded in marshalling all of us around the same vision of a better future and a better country, in the same way that the 34 Constitutional Principles that underpin our Constitution marshalled political opponents to a historical political settlement seventeen years ago. 

It is befitting that the National Development Plan gets similar acclaim as the 34 Constitutional Principles which shaped our constitutional destiny. The National Development Plan is our cherished ideal of non-racial, non-sexist, equal and prosperous society, an ideal that many laid down their lives for in order that we can today enjoy the fruits of their sweat and blood.

Our transformative constitution envisions a future when no child will attend school under a tree and everyone will be free from violence, and every person has realised his or her potential. I must hasten to caution that it will be tragic to share a common vision of where the National Development Plan is leading us to without understanding where we come from, a feat which the President has articulated so impeccably when he delivered the trend-setting State of the Nation Address this previous Thursday.

The tabling of the National Development Plan in November 2011 occurred just before the commencement of the 100 years celebration of the struggle against colonialism and apartheid as led by the African National Congress (ANC). The forces of colonialism and later apartheid, on the one side, arrayed themselves against the forces for freedom and democracy on the other side.

It was an epic confrontation, which, over time pre-occupied the global agenda, and culminated in heroic stance by the United Nations when it declared Apartheid as a crime against humanity and a threat to world peace.

On the occasion of the debate on the SoNA, it is important to reflect on these historical realities, because sometimes we get lost in the maze of political expediency and forget that the peaceful democratic breakthrough of 1994 which we achieved primarily because we collectively put aside our differences and reached out to each other.

We triumphed over our differences because we all focused on the vision portrayed in the Freedom Charter which yielded our world-acclaimed Constitution.  It was a recognition that in spite of the untold suffering, strife and racial hatred sowed by Apartheid, we all became bound by the vision of a shared constitutional destiny. 
We must spare no effort in forging the same unity and common purpose in ridding this country of the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment which permeate the diagnostic review that culminated to the adoption of the National Development Plan by our people.

These triple challenges reaffirm what our President and world state’s man, Nelson Mandela, stated when he signed our Constitution into law, and I quote: “Out of experience was born the understanding that there could be no lasting peace, no lasting security, no prosperity in this land unless all enjoyed freedom and justice as equals”.
Our transformative Constitution is a commitment to save our people from the poverty trap and the vicious cycle of inequality perpetuated by the legacy of apartheid and colonialism. We cannot delay this promise any longer.

The lessons of the Marikana tragedy, to which the President alluded to in his address attests to the impatience which was waiting to implode.  It is for this reason that the ANC, at its elective conference in Mangaung in December 2012, adopted a robust programme geared to transform our socio-economic landscape.

This programme is premised on the Bill of Rights enshrined in our Constitution which states as follows, (I quote) “This Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa.  It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom”.

As the ruling party, it is our proud heritage that the African Claims principles of 1943 and the Freedom Charter of 1955 informed the golden thread of our internationally acclaimed Constitution. We are all enjoined to ensure its practical realisation in the lived experiences of all our people.

We will therefore leave no stone unturned in living to our commitment as the African National Congress, of a better life for all and to improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person - as we are required to do so by the Constitution.

Through the agenda it has adopted during its 53rd elective Conference and which will translate into government programme of action, the ANC seeks to reverse the legacy of the Land Act and restore people to what is rightfully theirs through the application of just and equitable principle.

It is in this context that land reform initiatives, including the re-opening of the lodgement date claims will become the priority of Government. The Land Claims Court will also be strengthened to develop and enhance an appropriate land jurisprudence that has the effect of full restoration to those who were arbitrarily disposed of their land.

In dealing with Land reforms we will be guided by the Constitution which enjoins Government to implement compensation which is just and equitable, and reflects an equitable balance between the public interest and the interests of those affected.
In spite of the challenges of high levels of poverty and the continued socio-economic impacts of the past, we have in place a State machinery across the three branches of the state which is capable of delivering on the principles and mandate of the Constitution. In doing so, these equal Branches of the state are bound together by the Constitution which is a non-negotiable framework within which we must continue to express our political differences as we endeavour to build a better life for all.
Mr Speaker, after dealing with our contentious issues during the crafting of our new democracy, it is essential that none amongst us politicizes to the point of eroding the fundamental principles and values of our Constitution such as the Bill of Rights and the principle of the separation of powers as basis for a just order and the peace and stability of our democracy.

It is common cause that any false alarms about what are supposedly threats on values of the Constitution, including the principle of the separation of powers, may in itself ironically be the actual threat to our democracy.

We must take this opportunity not only to re-assure our people about the importance and place of our Constitution in our democracy, but also to implore all honourable members not to create the impression that anyone amongst us is about to undermine the Constitution when empirical evidence not only hails the ANC as its originator as the African Claims could attest, but also as its architect, champion and defender.

The legitimacy of our Constitutional democracy rests on all us across the three arms of the State, as well as on the shoulders of each and every citizen of this country. In our own respective ways, we must endeavour to ensure that the Constitution is a living document that requires all our people to put their shoulder to the wheel to ensure its survival and longevity well into the future.

Mr Speaker, the Constitution is the Supreme law of the land and any act or conduct which is contrary to it, is invalid and illegal. Importantly, we must all be mindful of the fact that the Constitution not only enshrines right to citizens, but that concomitant to these rights, are duties that must be observed by all.

It is therefore fundamental that while the Constitution enshrines the right of assembly, demonstration, picket and petition, this right must be exercised peacefully, unarmed.  The Constitution does not sanction any protest that violates the freedom and security of another person, lead to injury or death of persons or damage to property, regardless of the reason for such protest actions. 

It is therefore important that the State excises its authority to ensure respect for the Constitution and the law.  The Justice Crime Prevention and Security Cluster will leave no stone unturned in its endeavour to maintain peace and stability and to protect the rights of innocent citizens and private and public property. 

Measures underway include the enhancement of the capacity of law enforcement agencies and ensuring an integrated approach to fighting crime and lawlessness. These measures will be unpacked in the next few weeks when Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cluster (JCPS) departments announce their policy statements and plans for the 2013/14 financial year.  

The JCPS cluster has adopted a zero-tolerance to corruption which threatens to erode the fruits of our hard-earned democracy.  The reality is that corruption is a matter with which we must collectively embark to uproot and as government we have taken various measures in this regard and also support the COSATU led initiative on Corruption Watch because indeed corruption is a crime that undermines the realisation of our developmental objectives.

Let me, before I conclude, also address the incidents of rape and violence against women which are reaching alarming proportions. We are moving steadfast to combat this barbaric conduct by merciless perpetrators who show no respect to the right of women to enjoy the freedom of their security. 

We have taken conscious decision to re-establish Sexual Offences Courts to complement the work of the Sexual Offences Unit in the Police. I am in discussion with the judiciary to ensure that sexual offences cases are placed on a prioritised roll, that we strengthen the case flow management system to ensure that the chain from investigation to trial stage is water-tight. 

We are also considering measures to strengthen our legislative framework, these include aspects relating to bail, admission of evidence and sentencing of perpetrators of this heinous crime.

We must all endeavour to make this house the most important gathering in our land. It is common course that the Office of the President is of high importance to the governance and stability of our country, part from other also important concerns such as those of development and prosperity for all. Our Constitution provides for passing a motion of no confidence on the President, in the instances that genuinely warrants such actions.

The people of South Africa have confidence in President Jacob Zuma. This is evidenced by the overwhelming majority that our President and the ANC amassed during the 2009 elections in which the ANC got 1 million votes more than it did in 2004. Those who are barking from the side-lines are in denial and are reminded of the words from the poem of Maya Angelou and I quote:

“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still like dust, I’ll rise”.

I thank you!