Last year the Wall Street Journal wrote that South Africa was at a crossroads, in 2018 the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement was too titled ‘South Africa at a Crossroads’, stressing the difficult economic and fiscal choices confronting the government, and in 2017 South Africa was once again at a crossroads according to a discussion held at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. No doubt an expert in something, somewhere, was saying we are at a crossroads the year before that, and again another ten years before that.
In thinking through how we might edge closer to the vision in the Constitution, it would be trite of me to say that we are at a crossroads now, upon which the future of entire constitutionalism depends. Because more often than not, there is a fork in the road and choices to be made. There is seldom novelty in it, we are constantly presented with choices of profound significance that will lead us in one direction instead of another. I say this because when I present what I think are our choices, this is not a singular crossroads or watershed moment. Rather some of our temporal choices until we soon are confronted with another fork in the road.
Our Constitution envisions, among other things, a non-racial society and to ‘free the potential of each person’. These ideals in South Africa are inextricably linked, but their future, and thus that of the Constitution, are under threat: if we cannot free the potential of each person, we make achieving nonracialism harder.
Before I give a more detailed account of this position and its implication for our future, it needs mentioning that it is now de rigueur at every gathering where politicians and business leaders meet to declare that South Africa needs a social compact or contract. For what purpose? To set out a common vision for all stakeholders which would articulate the basic rules of the game necessary to achieving our shared national aspirations? We have such a contract – the Constitution.
Speech by Dr Theuns Eloff, to the FW de Klerk Foundation Annual Conference, Radisson Blu Hotel, Granger Bay
31 January 2020