Civil society celebrates new $25 million fund to advance constitutionalism in South Africa. By Shelagh Gastrow

This week at the District Six Homecoming Centre in Cape Town, it was announced that a $25 million (R285 million) fund will be jointly established by the Open Society Foundation, the Ford Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies to advance South African constitutionalism for next 10 years. Inyathelo's Shelagh Gastrow explains that by strengthening civil society, we are helping to protect the foundations of our constitutional democracy.

Civil society celebrates new $25 million fund to advance constitutionalism in South Africa. By Shelagh Gastrow

South Africa should delight in the creation of a fund which will advance constitutionalism!  

There is a misunderstanding at all levels of South African society as to what constitutionalism is and why it is important.  We have seen statements emerge from political leaders which seem to imply that the constitution is contrary to majoritarianism, and there is confusion around why a majority party cannot just implement new legislation as it sees fit.  People think we are a parliamentary democracy because we have a parliament, when in fact we are a constitutional democracy.

This means that parliament has to comply with the constitution.  There are huge risks when political leaders start to believe that they can ignore the constitution and also ignore rulings of the constitutional court.

The capacity to advance constitutionalism includes ensuring that key Chapter Nine institutions are strengthened including Human Rights Commission, the Auditor General and the Independent Electoral Commission. This means ensuring that the best people run these institutions and that they can function independently from government. Undermining some of these institutions such as the Public Protectors’ office has become an acceptable occupation.

It is critical that the role of Public Protector is respected and personal attacks on the incumbent should be prevented as it undermines the constitution.  Another case is the politicisation of the Judicial Services Commission and the subsequent ramifications of that. Our constitutional institutions are critical to maintaining the integrity of our state and have to be protected.  This fund will provide a means to ensure that the democracy experiment in South Africa becomes more than an experiment, but that it becomes entrenched and the constitution and the values contained in it emerge as the winner in the race against time when elements are trying to corrupt and criminalise the state.

By strengthening civil society, Inyathelo defends Section 18 of the constitution – our right to free association, our right to work together, to form organisations, movements and structures that enable citizen action.  We believe that the creation of this Consitutionalism Fund will assist in ensuring that civil society has a voice, is protected and can continue to function in terms of our constitution.

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