Start main page content

Flouting the Constitution a threat

- Buhle Zuma

Veteran journalist Raymond Louw receives honorary Doctor of Literature.

Raymond Louw has issued an appeal to South Africans to exercise vigilance and reject political attempts to subvert the judiciary and the Constitution.

Louw’s plea comes in the wake of government’s failure to act on the High Court’s ruling to detain Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir, and the ongoing hostility towards the judiciary and other agents of democracy.

On the Al-Bashir debacle, Louw says government's latest's actions show that "it will choose when not to abide by the founding provisions of the Constitution, its supremacy and the rule of law. It could also imply rejection of the Constitution as a whole and that means that the many protections and rights of all citizens and institutions contained in that document are under threat.”

Louw was addressing Wits graduands shortly after the University bestowed an honorary Doctor of Literature on him for his “unstinting service to journalism and the fight for free expression and unwavering opposition to censorship, both locally and globally,” the  reads. The doctorate was conferred on him during the Faculty of Humanities’ graduation ceremony, the first of the winter graduations taking place this week.

During his address he cautioned that “if the government continues to flout the orders of the judiciary and draws the teeth of the Constitutional Court, at present the last line of defence to preserve press freedom – indeed all our freedoms – the Constitution can be regarded as dead and South Africa will have made the plunge into an authoritarian state, if not worse.”

Louw who began his journalism career at the age of 18 and later joined the Rand Daily Mail newspaper which is legendary for its liberal opposition to apartheid, also decried ongoing attack on 

media freedom and civil society institutions critical of misrule, corruption and other deficiencies in government.

Increasing threats facing the press are a danger for all the people because “journalists are merely the front-runners who are hit first” before countries descend into authoritarian rule.

Louw’s speech was titled .

He also took a moment to reflect on Wits’ role in the fight for freedom and shared how his son, Derek, then the editor of the Wits student newspaper, encountered the wrath of Prime Minister John Vorster. Derek was arrested and charged with criminal defamation after he published a cartoon describing Vorster as shuffling his cabinet but showing him switching the bottles in his liquor cabinet, said Louw.

Louw junior was fined and handed a three-year suspended sentence, however, the cartoonist, Franco Frescura, was not so fortunate and became stateless.

The respected media commentator added that it gives him pleasure to be recognised by “a proud institution that has excelled in furthering the cause of journalism, professional media conduct, freedom of the press and freedom of expression all related to freedom and independence of academic endeavour.”

Louw also attended the afternoon graduation ceremony to share in the celebration of his longtime friend and colleague, Peter Magubane, whom the University awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature on Tuesday, June 2015.