This week, South Africans have witnessed at play the significance of a civil-society initiative for the health of our constitutional democracy.
We honour the members of the panel and evidence leaders who have agreed to take time and give of themselves to this most important exercise of digging for the gems of truth in a dark mine dump, in the murky nexus between government, business and party-political interests.
We thank the witnesses too, who – at cost to themselves – have chosen the peace and joy of unburdening themselves in the full glare of the South African public.
South Africa is punch-drunk. It is reeling at the dizzy pace at which revelations of corruption and the systemic architecture of looting and theft that is tightly glued to the private interests of powerful men in business and politics who are prepared to physically kill – and figuratively kill – people and destroy institutions for what is in it for them.
The country has become quite alive to the reality of power, business, politics and the pillaging facilitated by the abuse of the baton of authority, lubricated by the flow of unearned wealth and benefits, at the expense of the impoverished citizenry, and against the perennial rivers of tears over the deaths of the incorruptible who dare to stand up against corruption.
It is in this context that we recognise just what such a tribunal signifies: in defence of lives, in defence of institutions of public values and public morality. The People's Tribunal is writing a new page in the history of our democracy, a page of active democratic participation, of inquisitive democratic participation, of dutiful responsibility in democratic participation. This is an example of how we should be in the other social and economic spheres of our democratic dispensation.
There will be no turning back. It is a practical response in this year of Nelson Mandela's centenary to that paragon of public accountability's call on all of us when, in 1996, he said:
"Our experience had made us acutely aware of the possible dangers of a government that is neither transparent nor accountable. To this end our Constitution contains several mechanisms to ensure government will not be part of the problem, but part of the solution. Public awareness and participation in maintaining efficiency in government within the context of human rights are vital to making a reality of democracy".
This is public awareness and participation in practice what we're doing today. It kicks in even when the Constitutional instruments like judicial commissions of inquiry have failed. The steering committee of the national convention process of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) meeting this week applauds as a significant lever of the anchoring of democracy [sic]. We say in the SACC process we must ensure that never again shall the country surrender public values to the whims of politicians, regardless of party or the leadership thereof.
The prophet Amos says, "Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream. May this stream never ever go dry."
Malusi Mpumlwana is general secretary for the South African Council of Churches.