South Africa: Reflecting Confidence

22nd October 2009 By: Denis Worrall

Since his retirement as president of the country and joint Nobel Peace Prize winner with Nelson Mandela, former president F W de Klerk has very commendably devoted himself to promoting South Africa internationally. As a lawyer, his point of departure has been the Constitution, and this week he again returned to the Constitution in a speech at his alma mater Potchefstroom University.

After saying that the Constitution "is the indispensible basis of our national unit and our best and abiding hope for continuing freedom, prosperity and stability", he went on to identify seven threats to the Constitution. These include legal amendments to the Constitution; erosion of the Constitution by ordinary legislation; government neglect of parts of the Constitution that it did not like; an executive or sectionally-minded judiciary; apathy; and "political subversion". This is a reference, De Klerk said, to the fact that "power did not rest with parliamentary executives but with whatever faction controlled the majority party".

Most lawyers, when it comes to constitutions, tend to look at formality - substance is less important than conformity to the rules of the Constitution. To his credit, however, De Klerk gives substance to the Constitution's provisions. For example, he relates "dysfunctional service delivery" to Constitutional guarantees - by reminding us that key constitutional rights are undermined because of the State's inability to assure them. For example, "rampant crime deprives people of their right to life; the right to be free from violence; and the right to property".

De Klerk's approach to building confidence is an unusual one - because most people would look to build confidence not on negatives (threats) but on positives. They would identify and list things like the economic and strategic value of a country's resources; the strength of its financial services; its strength as a food producer; or that it has the most sectorially-developed economy on the continent, etc. The one advantage of De Klerk's approach is that he is setting down markers or drawing lines in the sand: if this or that happens, then constitutionally our country is threatened, and with it stability and order.

Getting back to the positivist approach, although there haven't been a lot of positives in these last ten days - what with the Eskom disaster, red lights flashing in virtually every state enterprise, and qualified audits of several state departments - as this is Media Freedom Day in the world the one positive we should celebrate is South Africa's progressive stance on freedom of expression.

Another positive has been a UK Trade & Investment report on emerging markets released this week by UK Secretary of State Lord Mandelson. Addressing the Economist Intelligence Unit's Emerging Markets workshop, the report "Survive and Prosper: emerging markets in the global recession" gives fresh insights into the opportunities and longer-term strategic importance offered by emerging economies. But what is significant is that South Africa is identified in the report as among the top four key markets for global investors.

De Klerk ended his speech by reasserting his optimism and confidence in South Africa - something which, notwithstanding the inefficiencies and deficiencies of this society, most of us naturally concur with. In fact, South Africa stands on the edge of the BRIC countries from a promising growth and investment point of view. That's the nub of what Lord Mandelson was saying.

Denis Worrall,
Omega Investment Research
Cape Town, South Africa

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