tribute arthur chaskalason

Madiba, I admire the enormous contribution you have made to the fight for freedom and justice in our country. Throughout your life you have cherished democracy and that is reflected in everything that you did during the struggle, in your concluding remarks at the Rivonia trial, and as President after democracy was achieved.

It is appropriate that you should be the recipient of many awards. Although none on its own, nor even the multiplicity of them, could adequately reflect what you have done for our country and the world.

For me, one of your actions after becoming President has a special place in demonstrating your commitment to democracy and it is for that reason that I have chosen to record it in my contribution. I am sure that you will recollect the events.

One of the first steps that had to be taken to consolidate democracy after the adoption of the interim Constitution was to make provision for democratic local government elections to be held to replace the apartheid local government structures. This was an extremely complex issue, which Parliament decided could best be done by Presidential Proclamation, and it gave you the power to do everything that was necessary to replace the old legislation. You issued a series of Proclamations to achieve this purpose. There was, however, a problem for the Constitution required legislation of this nature to be enacted by Parliament and not by Presidential Proclamation. When the validity of the Proclamations became an issue in a case before the Constitutional Court, the Court ruled that you had exceeded your powers under the Constitution, and that the Proclamations were invalid. In an interview you had with Anthony Lewis of The New York Times, he refers to this incident, saying: "President Mandela told me with pride how the new Constitutional Court, where Chaskalson now presides, had overturned as unconstitutional his proclamation of elections in the Western Cape: 'Arthur Chaskalson defended me when I was sent to Robben Island for 27 years. But when it came to the question whether I was entitled to issue those proclamations, he felt I had no right. And he overrode me. And within an hour of his ruling I came out and made a public statement to say this is the highest tribunal in constitutional matters, they handled a complicated case with great skill, and I called upon members of the ANC and the public to respect the decision. I had to do so. It was a fitting opportunity for us to assert the independence of the structures we have put up to show that the bill of rights is a living document.'"

You then convened a special session of Parliament so that it could enact the legislation required to enable the local government elections to go ahead. That was a crucial decision, which firmly established a commitment to constitutionalism and the role of the courts in a constitutional order.