November 25, 2016 Print

A recent government probe rocked South Africa after assertions that the country’s highest elected official, President Jacob Zuma, has engaged in several corrupt activities. Those allegations only scratch the surface, however, according to a recent report from the South African Institute of Race Relations. Titled “Going off the Rails: The Slide Toward the Lawless South African State,” the report details more than 200 infractions committed by the government that violate the South Africa Constitution or its citizens’ constitutional rights.

“Lawlessness on the part of the state and those who run it is on the increase,” wrote John Kane-Berman, the author of the report. “The culprits run from the president down to clerks of the court, from directors general to immigration officials, from municipal managers to prison warders, from police generals to police constables, from cabinet ministers to petty bureaucrats. ... Lawlessness predates President Jacob Zuma’s assumption of power in 2009, but it has intensified during his rule as more and more people and institutions follow his example and the examples of those who condone his behavior.”

The report’s findings suggest a collapse of the rule of law within South Africa. There exists a brazen disregard for upholding the law amongst many branches of South Africa’s government, Kane-Berman explains, dating back at least 17 years to improprieties that involved the African National Congress impeding a parliamentary investigation into an arms procurement deal.

“Lawlessness ranges from protecting the criminal, to hounding the innocent, to crushing the poor,” Kane-Berman continued. “It runs from the unconstitutional to the outright criminal, from the brazen and defiant to the negligent or ignorant. It embraces slamming down the telephone on judges as well as victimizing traffic policemen who flag down celebrities. It ranges from violations of parliamentary procedure, to breaches of the Public Finance Management Act, to outright skullduggery and corruption.”

Among the many findings of the government probe is the allegation that the wealthy Gupta family bought certain appointments in the South African government from the sitting president. South Africa’s Constitutional Court also found that the president and the parliament both violated the country’s Constitution in obstructing the public protector charged with investigating government misconduct. They are not the only ones, however, failing to discharge the duties of their offices, according to the probe’s findings, which also allege that the defense minister has refused to cooperate with the standing committee on public accounts and unconstitutionally deployed the defense force. Meanwhile, the probe alleges, the energy minister has refused to hand over several documents concerning nuclear and petroleum issues to parliament, despite being required to do so.

“An end to the rule of Jacob Zuma might help to curtail large-scale lawlessness on the part of the Presidency, the Cabinet, and the [National Prosecuting Authority],” Kane-Berman said. “But the challenge of restoring a culture and practice of legality right across all the organs of state and agencies of government will be very much greater. And it must take account of the interests of all the ordinary people whose plight has been highlighted in this paper. All over again, it seems, we need to inculcate among those who rule us the idea that they are entitled to do only what the law empowers them to do, and that they must to do it according to the rules that comprise the law.”