I was officiating yesterday as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of our country at the annual Armed Forces Day celebration at the Castle in Cape Town. Every year, this significant event takes place on the anniversary of the 1917 sinking of the SS Mendi, in which more than 600 South African black soldiers and 30 crew members lost their lives. On Armed Forces Day, we honor the men and women who, in the service of our country, have lost their lives. On this day, we are also reminded of the duty of the Defence Force to defend our democrac
The Constitution asserts that the primary purpose of the defence force is, in compliance with the Constitution, to protect the Republic, its territorial integrity and its citizens. Although the defense force is the country’s only legitimate military force, each one of us is responsible for protecting our democracy and upholding our Constitution. The product of years of dedication and struggle is our democratic Constitution. Many South Africans have experienced tremendous pain and misery, and many have lost their lives, so that we can live in a democracy where everybody can enjoy equal rights.
Neither trivial nor abstract are the ideals, beliefs and rights found in the Constitution. They directly impact millions of people’s everyday lives, prevent the unfair use of power, provide protection for the vulnerable and encourage access to shelter, water, health care, education and social support for all people. In order to avoid corruption and accumulation of power to the detriment of the people, the Constitution is also necessary for ensuring a system of checks and balances. Each of the state’s three arms, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, has a role to play in ensuring transparency and compliance with the rule of law.
Our democracy is weak and useless without these checks and balances, without each arm of the state performing its duty, without obedience to the Constitution. Therefore, we should be worried when those who hold influential positions in society make remarks that display a disregard for the fundamental values of our Constitution and the institutions set up to protect our Constitution. Recent comments aimed at the judiciary, in which certain judges are accused, without any justification, of following interests other than the cause of justice, are of particular concern. Judges were accused of having political agendas and some were also accused of taking bribes. For at least two factors, such statements are extremely troubling. First of all, if such statements were valid, it would mean that within the judiciary there are those who struggle to uphold the standards and ideals they have been entrusted with.