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Group Says South Africa Constitution Not Helping the Poor

  • Delia Robertson

A group of respected South Africans from across the spectrum have formed a group aimed at making the constitution more relevant for the country's citizens. The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) says it is the country's poorest who are not reaping the benefits guaranteed in the constitution.

South Africa's constitution, adopted in 1996, is often described as one of the most progressive in the world. This is because it goes beyond many others in entrenching the right to the minimum necessities of life - including clean water, good health care and housing.

But a group of eminent South Africans say those who need those rights the most, the most vulnerable and poor, are not benefiting. The group came together recently to form the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) to find ways to actively promote the constitution and assist those who need to assert their constitutional rights.

Sipho Pityana, interim chairman of CASAC, said the need for such a group is great because corruption and patronage are so pervasive, rampant and crippling that South Africa is on the verge of being deemed a dysfunctional state. He tells VOA this flies in the face of the constitution. "But our constitution is quite assertive about the establishment of a public service that is exactly that - a service to the public. Not a public service that is a self-service to those who happen to occupy positions in public office," he said.

Pityana told VOA that while some cases of corruption and patronage are exposed in the media, there are far too many that do not receive attention. He said those affected often don't know how to demand their rights or don't have the means to do so.

Pityana said CASAC will focus on education but also where necessary help people to assert their rights in the courts."We want to make sure that the focus of that legal action is on socio-economic rights, because in that way it will demonstrate that people have the power in terms of the supreme law of the land, to demand their rights, to assert their rights, so we would do public litigation as part of this," he said.

Mr Pityana also warned that there is a conservative assault on the constitution from the very powerful in South Africa. Consequently, he said, it is now for the citizens of this country to reassert their ownership of the constitution. He added CASAC will support them in doing so.