‘The vote was a symbol of our democracy’

Clifton resident and former Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs.

The vote was the symbol of the struggle for democracy and it is important that elections are upheld as important events.

These were the thoughts of former Constitutional Court judge and anti-apartheid activist Albie Sachs at a talk at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Gardens last week. He said it was vital that 20 years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that elections matter, they’re credible and meaningful.

The Clifton resident said the great achievement of the TRC was that it got people to tell the truth about the atrocities and viciousness of apartheid.

“It was a vicious system and because the people responsible themselves have come forward there can’t be denial.

“It wasn’t the function of the TRC to transform South Africa, it’s function was to create a moral climate in which the indefensible would be acknowledged.

“It had a huge impact at the time. It was a transitional measure and its strength came from the fact that South Africa was undergoing a political revolution and then it was up to democratic institutions to bring about changes the country needed.

“People often asked me do I want revenge for the bomb and losing my arm. I always said that if we got democracy, roses and lilies would grow from my arm.”

Speaking to the Atlantic Sun after the panel discussion, he highlighted the role of the Constitutional Court in ensuring democracy.

“What has made the current elections particularly intense is the possibility of a change of party leadership in major metros.

“The function of the court is to ensure the principles and the values of the Constitution operate. In that sense it is a bulwark against arbitrary power and it helps to give credibility to the elections. It’s not a case of the courts versus democracy, it’s a case of the courts helping to guarantee democracy.”

Touching on recent student protests across the country, Justice Sachs added that he admired young people who were standing up for what they believed in and encouraged them to use their vote to bring about change.

“I think it is marvellous that young people are speaking out, that they are idealistic, passionate and raising very important questions. All I would say to them is use your vote.

“We fought so hard for the vote. It became the symbol of our democracy because only whites had the vote. It is a form of enabling people to hold government accountable.”

He said it was not by accident that the Constitution gives local government a lot of power and autonomy.

“That was deliberately put into our Constitution. In some countries local government is simply an outpost of national government. Not in our Constitution and so the elections become very meaningful. They give access to resources, public policies and a sense of meaningful participation by the people.”