Current Constitution deals effectively with land reform – De Klerk


Cape Town – South Africa’s current Constitution is effective in addressing land reform as it is, according to former president FW de Klerk.

He was speaking at a press briefing on the sidelines of the FW de Klerk Foundation’s annual conference on Friday, themed South Africa beyond State Capture.

During his address De Klerk mentioned that the current Constitution can still serve the country deep into the future.

“I am confident that the present Constitution will serve South Africa well deep into the future and that it will far surpass the lifespan of constitutions elsewhere on our continent and in the world.”

When asked if he was referring to land reform in his speech, De Klerk said that section 25 of the Constitution makes “adequate provision for full land reform and extensive land reform”.

He added that Deputy President and now ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa took the right decision in requesting a full investigation first to understand why land reform has not worked.

He emphasised that the Constitution must not be tampered with. “It’s a good Constitution, it’s been negotiated in a good way.”

Scenario planner and CEO of the Institute of Race Relations, Frans Cronje, who also delivered an address at the conference, said that property rights are one of the areas of concern for investors.

“It is futile to entertain the idea that diluting the protections on offer in Section 25 of the Constitution can be done in a manner that does not raise alarm among investors.

“The drift across emerging markets is towards stronger property rights, not away from them,” said Cronje.

“Property rights must be sacrosanct if we are to attract the investment we need, and to allow poor households to start accumulating assets…

“Land reform, as one controversial area of policy, does not fail because of property rights, it fails because emerging farmers are not allowed the advantages of ownership that are central to the model of agricultural production in our country.”

Longevity of SA’s Constitution

During his address, De Klerk explained that even though critics believe that the Constitution has failed, the answer to South Africa’s problem of state capture is not in changing the Constitution.

“Constitutions last on average 32 years in Europe, 12.4 years in Latin America and 10.2 years in Africa.   The French have had 17 constitutions since the 1789 Revolution,” said De Klerk. But South Africa’s Constitution has the characteristics to ensure its longevity, he added, referring to a study by Professor Tom Ginsburg of the University of Chicago.

These factors are the ease with which to amend it, how it spells out with specificity the rights and freedoms of citizens and the fact that it is inclusive. 

“In my opinion, we should not interfere too lightly with a document that was negotiated with such consummate care 22 years ago. 

“Once one opens the Pandora’s Box of constitutional amendment, it might easily happen that much of the good might be excised with the bits that some people now dislike,” he said.

Integrity of the president

“We may amend our present Constitution or replace it with a new one.  However, success will depend on the genuine commitment of those who hold power to uphold the values, the vision and foundational values on which constitutions should be based.”

He was explaining that the enforcement of the Constitution depends on the President’s integrity and willingness to abide by his oath in office.

“The viability of the entire constitutional scheme rests on the integrity and ability of the people that the President appoints to the Cabinet and to the many other key posts in the state sector that he is empowered by the Constitution to fill,” said De Klerk.

He stressed that different Chapter 9 institutions and the officials who head them must carry out their responsibilities without fear, favour or prejudice.

“Constitutions may include a perfect recipe for the ideal society – but ultimately it is the chefs who determine how the dinner will turn out,” he said. These chefs are the electorate, the ruling party, opposition parties, the government, the courts and the institutions of state.

South Africa’s future depends on implementing the Constitution with diligence and integrity, he explained.

“Without integrity among the chefs, it does not matter how well the constitutional recipe is written, The first course of good governance will be ruined, the second course of national unity will be burned to a cinder and the dessert cake of economic prosperity will end up in the dustbin,” De Klerk said. 

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