A call for responsible and constitutional governance in South Africa – Eustace Davie

In a world where majoritarianism often overshadows constitutional rights, the behavior of some elected officials raises alarms. Their limited understanding of their authority can lead to significant harm. It’s crucial to remember that voters grant power to political representatives, and this power should be wielded responsibly. In South Africa, evidence shows that misinformed decisions on crucial matters, like economic freedom and minimum wage, have dire consequences, especially for the youth. It’s time to restore the promised rights and freedoms and empower young South Africans to shape their futures.

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Majoritarianism does not give Parliament the authority to disregard constitutional rights

By Eustace Davie*

The behaviour of some members of Parliament and other office-bearers in government leaves the observer with the distinct conclusion that they have a warped understanding of what authority their election has conferred on them. This is a disturbing phenomenon because, if they have a warped understanding of the actual powers that have been legitimately conferred on them, they can do a great deal of damage.

It is the people, and not civil servants, who grant powers to members of political parties by voting for them in elections. It is then essential in the granting of any form of authority to appointed officials, that they have a legitimate and thorough knowledge of the functioning of the activities that have been placed under their control. Placing a politician or group of politicians with no industrial experience, for instance, in charge of a large industrial complex, will inevitably lead to disaster.

South Africans have extensive evidence necessary to caution on disastrous appointments to the management of electricity, railways, waterworks, airlines, roadworks, harbours, provision of healthcare, and more.  

Unfreedom in an unfree society 

Misconceptions in the minds of appointed members of political parties can cause endless difficulties for the public. It is therefore essential to ensure that the “authority-holders” remain strictly within the bounds of the authority conferred on them by voters.

Members of the “majority party” in Parliament tend to regard themselves as being in total control of all government powers, so long as they “own” the powers of political manipulation necessary to outvote opponents. Under such circumstances the rights and assets of individual voters and members of the public are at risk of appropriation by the members of the majority party and its followers.

Economic freedom and its positive consequences 

The Economic Freedom of the World annual report that was released in September by Canada’s Fraser Institute provides clear evidence that the greater the level of economic freedom in a country, the more likely it becomes that the country will be more peaceful, and its people will become increasingly prosperous.

The reverse also holds true. South Africa, unfortunately, provides many examples of a country where the level of economic freedom has been steadily eroding. Reduced economic freedom in South Africa has, for instance, steadily reduced job opportunities, especially for young people, and has led to the country developing, according to the International Labour Organisation, the highest unemployment rate in the world. 

This has come about because of interference in the payment of wages to low-income people, most of whom are young. Instead of improving their lives, the minimum wage caused millions of such potential workers to be unemployed.

The minimum wage is a destroyer of economic freedom. It prevents the jobless from freely selling their labour to willing buyers and is tantamount to decreeing that anyone who cannot justify to an employer that their work is worth the amount that the labour department has set as the minimum wage, shall remain unemployed. This prohibition on employment displays a total lack of understanding of how markets work, including markets for labour. The creation of this disastrous and cruel scheme that denies, mostly young people, the right to employ their own labour to earn money to purchase the necessities of life, is monstrous.

Give back to young South Africans the rights and freedoms promised to them in the Bill of Rights and allow them to learn, grow, and flourish. 

The minimum wage does not advance the cause of young people. Instead, it denies them the rights promised to them. Remove the threats to employers, allowing them to freely enter into voluntary employment agreements with young people, and mass unemployment would rapidly dimmish. 

For those young people who are unfamiliar with the Bill of Rights and the “right to work” that is being denied to them, here is a summary: 

Founding Provisions of the Constitution

The Founding Provisions of the Constitution are careful not to elevate some members of the population above others. For instance, the carefully worded provisions state that South Africa is one sovereign democratic state founded on the following values: (a) Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms. (b) Non-racialism and non-sexism. (c) Supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law. (Note that the supremacy of the constitution, by repetition, is accentuated, and ipso facto, so is the rule of law). d) Universal adult suffrage, a national common voter’s roll, regular elections, and a multi-party system of democratic government are instituted to ensure accountability responsiveness and openness.

The Constitution describes the Bill of Rights as “a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa.” It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity equality and freedom. The State must respect, protect, promote, and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights. 

The equality clause in the Bill of Rights and mass unemployment

Given the wording of the equality clause in the Constitution, Parliament surely acted ultra vires when it approved the National Minimum Wage Act. 

The wording of section 9(1) of the Constitution is, “Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to protection and benefit of the law,” and subsection (2) provides that, “Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms. To promote the attainment of equality, legislative and other measures designed to protect or advance persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination may be taken.” 

Evidently, however, with the minimum wage law, those who are employed are given preference by Parliament at the direct expense of those who are unemployed. This is not equality before the law. Minimum wage laws, including older sectoral wage determinations in bargaining councils, are arguably unconstitutional.

Restoration of the rights of young South Africans

It is time for young South Africans to peacefully demand that their rights, and particularly their right to enter into contracts of employment with employers on conditions of employment and wages acceptable to them, be restored. The Human Rights Commission has the responsibility to ensure that the rights of the people are respected. Young people should avail themselves of this  promise of assistance, and demand that the Commission represent their interests in Parliament.

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*Eustace Davie is a director of the Free Market Foundation and author of Unchain the child. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.