Xenophobia, just like so many other unsettling issues in South Africa, is gradually becoming part of the way in which we are perceived as a society. The newest upsurge in xenophobic violence clearly indicates that we have not made significant progress since the problem surfaced in 2008. More unsettling however, is the unwillingness of South Africans from all levels of society to acknowledge and address the problem – media houses neglect to conduct in-depth investigations, politicians fail to express their concern over the issue, the South African Police Service controversially fuels public perception through its involvement in incidents regarding foreign nationals, and civilians exercise mob executions with self-righteousness and pride.
The South African Constitution offers protection to citizens and non-citizens, and is one of few constitutions in the world that indisputably does so. The preamble of the Constitution reiterates South Africa’s commitment to uphold the rule of law, and this commitment greatly depends on consistent application of the law in South Africa. It is imperative that South Africans understand that our own claims on the protection of and rights entrenched in the Constitution depend on respecting the rights of others. Arbitrary mob killings of foreign nationals during the past five years suggest that South Africans struggle to come to terms that all people are equal before the law. Allegations of foreign nationals being involved in criminal activities often lead to mob justice, which is a dangerous step towards corroding the rule of law, and eventually the Constitution upon which our society so greatly depends.
Section 1 of the Constitution sets out the founding values of the Republic of South Africa: dignity, equality, human rights, non-racialism, non-sexism, constitutional supremacy, rule of law, regular elections, accountability, responsiveness and openness.
The tragic shootings in Marikana, which took place on 16 August 2012, have led not only to much needed discussion on how equipped and prepared the police are to respond to violent protest, but also discussion about the underlying factors which led to these protests, and why they were so violent. Important questions must be asked about the shootings. Video footage of the incident suggests that it was not a clear cut case of self-defence. Accountability must prevail, both for workers responsible for violence and the police. Hopefully the Commission of Inquiry, established by President Jacob Zuma, will receive a broad mandate to investigate not only the shootings, but also a range of related issues related to what happened before and after.
For perhaps too long, the conventional wisdom has been that the best can come only from abroad; meaning Europe and America. From the perspective of constitutional law, the South African Constitution did more than just provide a clean break with the past. It provided a modern constitution which successfully borrowed and adapted many of the best principles from some of the major modern European constitutional models to fit with the realities of the country. Whilst not perfect, and there shall never be a perfect constitution, it shows how Africans can creatively find solutions to their problems.But it is perhaps the South African Constitutional Court, through the voluminous amount of jurisprudence that it has produced since 1995,that has attracted the most attention from constitutional experts all over the world and given rise to the feeling that the centre of modern constitutionalism might well be moving to Africa. For a continent that has been obsessed with blindly copying from the former colonial powers, there are many reasons to start looking at itself.Even the 1990s constitutional reforms in other African countries were still influenced by the inherited colonial constitutional models.