Committee Programme 2001

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


6 March 2001

Chairperson: Dr Z P Jordan

Documents handed out
Possible Technical Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa

The Committee stated that it would not make any decisions or deliberations on the document entitled Possible Technical Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Act No. 108 of 1996) as it was felt that it contained a number of inaccuracies. It was resolved that the document would be referred to the participating parties for comment. The recommendations in the document would be outlined in a subsequent meeting.

Possible Technical Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Act No. 108 of 1996)
The Chair said that it had been mentioned last year that there might be a number of technical amendments to the Constitution. He said that the document was received in response to the letter from the Committee to the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development. He speculated that the document could contain a number of inaccuracies. He asked the Committee how the Committee should treat it.

Ms S Camerer (NNP) stated that the document did contain some inaccuracies, especially with the views emanating from the Justice colloquium that was held. She said that the viewpoint that was expressed was that English should be the only language of record in the courts. She said that the document fails to capture another equally strong viewpoint that English should not be the only language of record, and that the present position should be retained. She reiterated that the document does not give an accurate reflection of a number of issues.

Adv. J De Lange (ANC) said that the document had far reaching consequences. The proposed amendments are not technical but substantive amendments. He proposed that the document be taken to the parties so as to analyse the matters further. The Committee should thereafter reconvene to decide which amendments could be regarded as technical. He said that the document could not be adopted for the above reasons.

Ms D Smuts (DP) added that she was going to suggest the same point that Advocate De Lange had raised. She raised her concern about the status of the document.

The Chairperson replied that in a letter received from Minister Maduna it was stated that although responsibility for the administration of the Constitution had been transferred to the Constitutional Review Committee, the Constitutional Review Committee has had to rely on information received from the Department of Provincial & Local Government. This department was previously responsible for the administration of the Constitution. Thus much of the personnel expertise still remains with that department. He said that this could be the reason for some of the inadequacies found in the document.

Prof A Asmal (ANC) added that in his experience as a lawyer there was no such thing as technical amendments to the Constitution. Every amendment to the Constitution is a political matter. Certain criteria have to be followed for the amendment, for example, the "urgent and present danger" test used in America. The Constitution is a sacrosanct document. There must be urgent and pressing needs before it could be amended.

Mr J Delport (DP) replied that he does not believe in the sacrosanctity of the Constitution. The Constitution contains good and bad parts. Surely bad parts would require amendment. He added to what Advocate De Lange had said - that the Committee could not work on this document as it stands. He said that technical amendments do not really go to the heart of the Constitution. He supported the motion that parties should be given time to study the document.

Mr C Eglin (DP) noted his concern about the source of the document as the document contained no date and no source, neither did it state who the author was. Regarding what Professor Asmal had said, he added that Parliament could amend the Constitution for political reasons. It should amend it if there is a technical reason for allowing government to operate smoothly. He proposed that the public should be invited to state their opinion on the amendments to be effected.

The Chairperson conceded that there was a general consensus that the document was inadequate for review by the Committee and that the document should be referred to the parties to be studied. They should thereafter make recommendations on what amendments are to be effected.

He commented on the aspect of involving the South African public in the matter. He said that the Committee had solicited submissions from the public in the past. He postulated that there was a lot of misunderstanding amongst the majority of South Africans about what the Constitution says, what it is about and which matters are dealt with by the Constitutional Review Committee. He had approached the Government Communication and Information Service about the possibility of informing the South African public about what the Constitution provides. He said that there would be a public information campaign in all media so that the public may be informed of what is contained in the Constitution.

Ms D Smuts (DP) wondered if a budget had been set aside for this purpose.

Adv. J De Lange said that the campaign should be supported.

Mr C Eglin (DP) said that the issue of bringing the Constitution closer to the public is very important and that the campaign would emphasise this.

The meeting was adjourned.


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