By Tyla Dallas
On Thursday 18 March, the Cape SAJBD commemorated the 25th anniversary of the South African Constitution by hosting an online discussion around its many highs and lows.
Two retired heavyweights, Judge Albie Sachs and Judge Dennis Davis were asked a series of questions by our moderator Advocate Anton Katz (SC) that focused on their personal experiences, trials and tribulations under this constitutional dispensation. The Judges spoke highly of one another, recognising each other’s respective contributions to the rule of law and democracy in South Africa.
Davis implored South Africans to “be proud” of our Constitution, as it “gave us the best possible hope at constitutional democracy, and a country built on equality, dignity and freedom.” It is for this precise reason that we should all defend this document, but we need also understand that it can not “lift itself into legality.”
Sachs went on to note all the ‘highs’ of our Constitution, namely that we have an “open society”, a “great judiciary”, “free and fair elections”, and “a government that [actually] steps down when removed”, all of which he said we must not take for granted. He agreed that these highs don’t make up for corruption, crime and job or home insecurity, but the Constitution does “give us a framework to challenge, [to] speak our minds and [to] feel free in this country.”
We need to develop a “new South African identity in which [we all] can be united in difference and diversity”, Davis said. However, this is no easy task. Both judges recognised that this would take time and a collective drive to realise.
When asked where Jewish people would fit into a future South Africa, and whether it is better to stay and fight for democracy, or leave, Davis asserted that the Jewish teachings bestow on us a duty to “purify the world in the image of G-d”. He understood this to mean we must “inculcate into society fundamental justice.” Sachs felt this “community-orientated group” added to this country’s diversity and had an “important presence” in South Africa.
Sachs aptly dubbed himself an “activist judge”, and refers to our “activist Constitution”, which was ahead of its times with regards to sexual orientation and gender rights, and the abolishment of capital punishment. This document allowed us and will continue to serve to “humanise society, [and] achieve fairness and justice in constitutional ways, [by allowing] transformation through [our] Judiciary.”
It was truly spectacular to hear first-hand from such humble, yet distinguished, persons. The message I take away is that we must not let a few rotten apples spoil the bunch; that by honouring our Constitution, its values and its transformative aims, we can create a more just and equal society for all.
The webinar was well attended and has had over 1 600 views on our Facebook page. To watch this webinar, follow us on Facebook, click on our ‘videos’ tab and open the ‘25 years of the Constitution’ video.
• Published in the PDF edition of the June 2021 issue – Download here.
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