Coalition Against Water Privatisation response to mayor’s attack on court judgement

Friday 16th May 2008

Friday 16 May 2008 by Ahmed



JOHANNESBURG - On Wednesday, in an attack that would have made Robert Mugabe proud, Johannesburg Mayor, Amos Masondo launched an unprecedented and vicious attack on the recent High Court ruling that found pre-paid meters to be unconstitutional and ordered the City of Johannesburg’s to change its water service policies. The judgement was handed down by Judge M.P. Tsoka on 30th April. Masondo’s arrogant and completely misdirected utterances are unwarranted and dangerous and must be condemned with the contempt they deserve.

This is what Masondo had to say about the judgement and Judge Tsoka: “Judges are not above the law ... We cannot have a situation where a judge wants to take over the role of government. Judges must limit their role to what they are supposed to do. If they want to run the country they must join political parties and contest elections. In that way they can assume responsibilities beyond their powers. We don’t want judges to take the role of Parliament, the role of the national council of provinces, the role of the legislature and the role of this council. Judges must limit their role.”

First things first Mr. Masondo - unless you have been asleep since 1994, you would know that there is no law in this country that is above the Constitution. The government is not above the Constitution and neither is any politician. Further, unless you have been even faster asleep over the last several years as this case has unfolded, you would also know that the case is fundamentally about the stated rights to water as contained in that Constitution. Judge Tsoka has done exactly what “he is supposed to do” - i.e. he has applied his mind to the issues at hand as they relate to those Constitutional rights and has made a ruling. In our country, you and the government you purport to represent are free to disagree and challenge that ruling, but when you use your political position to attack a Judge for carrying out his job and to imply that the government is above the democratic institutions and processes put in place by that Constitution, then you have crossed the democratic line.

Mr. Masondo - unless you made your statements while dreaming that you were in a country like Zimbabwe where there is no meaningful democracy, where the judiciary is treated with contempt and where the government thinks that it is the law, then you would know that a democratically elected government (at whatever level) like we have in South Africa has no power beyond that given to it by the people themselves. No one has given the government the right to unilaterally interpret and determine any right contained in the Constitution. No one has given the government the right to unilaterally pronounce that any law it passes is sacrosanct.

Yes Mr. Masondo, we still have a functioning democracy in our country (as weak as it might be at times). One of the benefits of that democracy - underpinned by the Constitution - is that laws and government action can be challenged through the courts by any individual citizen or collection of citizens and, if such a challenge is successful, those laws and action can be reviewed and changed. That is one of the key essences of the democratic principle of the limitation of powers.

Mr. Masondo, your right to appeal Judge Tsoka’s ruling is a component of that limitation process but you can claim no unilateral right to limit Judge Tsoka’s ruling simply because you are an elected politician. The ruling might, or might not be, overturned/changed, but any outcome is for the Constitutional Court to decide, not you or the government you claim to represent. You show your contempt for our hard won democracy Mr. Masondo when you make dangerous claims that you and your government are above it.

Finally Mr. Masondo - you would best be advised to go and spend a few days in Phiri before you mouth off silly propaganda about how “people are happy” with the roll out of pre-paid water meters and that only “a few ... small groups of residents in Phiri” are the ones behind this legal challenge. You might just learn and thing or two about how to listen to your own constituency and about how democracy is respected and works in poor communities as well.

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