SA, Tunisia, strengthen bilateral relations

The transition from the apartheid system to the dispensation of democracy has seen many African countries descending on to the South African soil to strengthen bilateral relations.

One of the primary reasons the country receives so many international visitors is to find out how the SA’s democratic transition was achieved and to draw some lessons from various aspects of the country’s constitutional democracy.

In continuing with this effort, Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe hosted his Tunisian counterpart, Mr Samir Dilou, the Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice on 03 April 2013.

The purpose of the visit was to promote bilateral co-ordination in matters of transitional justice with a view to benefiting from the South African experience in this field. Mr Dilou particularly had interest in understanding South Africa’s transitional justice process, with specific reference to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s process and how it was carried out as Tunisia is preparing to implement its own version known as the Truth and Dignity Commission.

In giving a broad overview of the country’s transition from apartheid, Minister Radebe said that the struggle for justice and freedom in the country culminated with the election on 27 April 1994.  He said that the country has moved from supremacy of Parliament into a constitutional democracy. “Our basic law in South Africa is our Constitution which is the supreme law of the land. Therefore everything we do is guided by this Constitution”, the minister explained.

He further said that the Constitutional Court as the apex of the country’s court system, made many significant judgements which have now become law. “One of those is the abolition of capital punishment which the Constitutional Court abolished fifteen years ago,” said Minister Radebe. He also spoke of the promotion of an independent judiciary which includes ensuring that the court system is separated from the executive arm of government.

Among the institutions aimed at advancing democracy, the Minister mentioned the Legal Aid South Africa which is responsible for assisting especially the vulnerable group, poor people, in particular, who are unable to financially support litigation. “Legal Aid comes to their assistance in fighting litigation on their behalf,” he explained.

Minister Radebe added that the country endeavours to have an integrated justice system in order to ensure that the system is a seamless value chain. “If you take, for example, the criminal justice system; we work in clusters so that from the police to the prosecution, imprisonment and also release - we see that as a holistic exercise”, he said.

Key to the minister’s overview was the transformation of the judiciary. He mentioned that the Legal Practice Bill, which is currently before Parliament, is aimed at transforming the legal profession. “We cannot advance in terms of the judiciary if we are not transforming the pool from which judges have to be appointed,” Minister Radebe added.
Tunisia is in a transitional process and has just finalised the draft of its new Constitution. According to Mr Samir Dilou, the new Constitution guarantees the protection of human rights, liberty and dignity and it will be a mid-term regime between the parliamentarian and the presidential one. “We suffered a lot because of the presidential regime and now we would like to avoid the same situation going forward,” he said.

According to Mr Dilou, Tunisia has a lot of experience in the field of transitional justice especially the South African justice. He mentioned that they had the privilege to utilise South African expertise in the crafting of their democratic dispensation. Having moved from the presidential regime, Tunisia is in a process of implementing the Truth and Dignity Commission. This is a similar version of South Africa’s version of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

The Tunisian delegation also wanted to learn from South Africa on how the TRC was constituted and whether they should adopt a similar approach used by the country in restoring injustices of the past.

In response, Minister Radebe said they will have to analyse the situation and decide on what is best for the people of Tunisia. He cautioned that whether the Truth and Dignity Commission will work that depend on the objective. “It will depend on what wrongs you are trying to correct and I think the people of Tunisia must be forward-looking in entrenching democracy so that you don’t return to the old oppressive regime, “ he concluded.



By Benson Ntlatleng

03 April 2013