Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Yesterday I wrote, in response to Laurence at Commentary, that the ANC would be unlikely to amend the Constitution in response to, say, a terrorist attack or a civil war in Zimbabwe. Instead, the more likely response would be to declare a state of emergency. In response, Laurence writes:

Is it crazy to wonder whether, in addition to declaring a state of emergency right after the attack, the government would also consider using their two-thirds legislative majority - if they had one - to make some alterations to the constitution? Just asking.

In any case, I think my main point is still solid: that you can take the ANC at their word when they say they have no intention of changing the constitution (which I for one do), and still not want them to get a constitutional majority. Simply because circumstances change, and while they may not want to alter the constitution right now, a situation may come up in the future that makes a constitutional amendment look very attractive.

Regarding the final point, I couldn't agree more. The Constitution should bind the government, not the other way round. And I agree that a situation might arise that could make a constitutional amendment look attractive. But I still don't think that a sudden catastrophe would be a likely trigger. Instead, consider the following scenario: having failed to significantly alleviate poverty and inequality, the ANC's support base begins to erode. This possibly coincides with the emergence of a genuine electoral challenge. The ANC might then wish to accelerate certain programs, such as land redistribution and employment equity, in bid to shore up its support. In such circumstances, the Constitution (esp the property clause), and the relatively powerful role accorded to South African courts, might appear as obstacles. The ANC would be able to claim that these are hindrances to process of transformation or "liberation", which it has a popular mandate to implement.


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