Independant On-line, ANC needs to be democratised: TAC, 25 January 2004

The most important institution in the country, the African National Congress, still needs to be democratised, national chairman of the Treatment Action Campaign Zackie Achmat said at the weekend.

He was addressing the Celebrating a Decade of Democracy conference in Durban on Saturday.

The conference, which ends on Sunday, provided parliamentarians, jurists, lawyers and human rights activists with a platform to critically evaluate the nation's progress "in the pursuit of justice" over the past 10 years.

It is co-hosted by the Foundation for Human Rights and the South African Human Rights Commission.

'Our government has not used the Constitution as well as it should have'
Achmat said the objectives of the masses of people struggling against apartheid were eloquently contained in the Freedom Charter signed in Kliptown in 1955 and, 41 years later, in the South African Constitution.

The problem, he said, was that while everyone remembered the clause that "South Africa belongs to all who live in it," few recalled the provision that the wealth shall be shared among all the people.

He said it was not simply a question of democratising the ANC and the Supreme Court of Appeal, among many other institutions, "it was up to civil society to assist the government to use the Constitution to the country's advantage."

"I believe our government has not used the Constitution as well as it should have. The government does not see the Constitution as an ally in its pro-poor and pro-human rights approach."

Achmat said, instead overpaid lawyers representing government presented the most spurious arguments in their efforts to combat litigation seeking to transform society.

Not that lawyers were at the root of the problem, activists who failed to understand the law, were, he said.

The country was in need of a new generation of human rights lawyers in the mould of Dullah Omar, Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge, but the reason this class of lawyer was thin on the ground was that South Africa did not have a new generation of activists worthy of the name.

The most serious problem, Achmat said, was the failure of organisations representing the poorest South Africans to engage with the Constitution.

He said he could not fully understand why trade union federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) was prepared to engage in a general strike but was not prepared to take the government to court.

"As a result, the trade union movement was losing out on a golden opportunity to renew itself, he said.

"If we don't use the law and the Constitution, how can we argue that government should?"

Achmat said that the Constitutional Court, that legitimised so-called floor crossing by politicians but failed to decriminalise sex work, required a healthy dose of community mobilisation to set the record straight.

"I'd like to see what the courts do about gay and lesbian marriages, now that I have a boyfriend again."

Achmat said that among the issues with which South Africa would have to grapple over the next 10 years were the transformation of mine compounds, issues of immigration and African unity, and the development of customary and religious law to keep pace with the globalising society. - Sapa




Send mail to with questions or comments about this web site. Last modified: April 16, 2003