Judges & Politicians
It’s July 2020 and Israel has just about annexed the Palestinian West Bank. While people are toppling statues of slavers in the United Kingdom and Belgian royals are expressing feeble ‘regret’ for their ancestors actions in the Congo; Israel is busy with a genocide against the Palestinian people. In July 2020. With the whole world watching it happen on TV and on social feeds.
A court of the future might declare this as negligence on our part.
History will show that we failed many times. The erasure of Palestine (and Yemen) in our lifetimes, is but one of our many collective human failures. If you’re reading this, then you probably know enough about Palestine; I’ll leave this here for now.
Closer to home, the public health system in the holy land was brought into stark focus with the callous lack of care that killed Shonisani Lethole. Unlike our civil servants who have access to private health care, regular people in the holy land have to suffer at the hands of a public health system that is, for all intents and purposes, broken. But it did not break overnight, nor because of the Coronavirus outbreak, but because way back in 1997, we abdicated our rights to decide healthcare issues to politicians and doctors. And the Constitutional Court did this kind service for us.
The backstory to the 1997 case is something like this. A villager with a classic case of three-sugars in my tea please (and his lawyer) from Durban, went to court because the local public hospital refused him life-saving dialysis. He has paid for this service at private providers before with his own moolah — and when it ran out, he went over to the public health system asking for help with the renal dialysis. They refused on the basis of his co-morbidities and that this meant, it was not emergency medical care. But this ballie (as the locals would say) was not letting them get away with that and so he went to the Constitutional Court.
And the esteemed Concourt said that ‘Obligations imposed on the state regarding access to health care are dependent upon the resources available…’ and in closing that ‘A court will be slow to interfere with rational decisions taken in good faith by the political organs and medical authorities whose responsibility it is to deal with such matters.’
I’m not sure if Shonisani Lethole knew about the Soobramoney v. Minister of Health (Kwazulu-Natal) case or judgement but he instinctively tweeted the Minister of Health letting him know that he had not eaten for two days. Shonisani was not happy with the service, so he asked for the manager. But the manager was out to lunch and by the time he got back to the office, it was too late for Shonisani. As it has been for many people over the years.
Elsewhere the Constitutional Court judgement reads ‘The hard and unpalatable fact is that if the appellant were a wealthy man he would be able to procure such treatment from private sources; he is not and has to look to the state to provide him with the treatment’.
So let’s summarise here; The judges say the politicians and doctors make the calls about public health care. The same judges, politicians and doctors who all use private healthcare facilities (paid for from taxpayer income) make the choices for those who have no option but to use the public facilities. And we’d be loathe to challenge that because this call was made by some of the finest and most celebrated legal minds of the holy land. So it must be the best choice we could have made, right? I recall reading about the judgment and remember feeling discomfort about the choice of the court. Nothing that has happened in our public healthcare system since then has convinced me otherwise.
I’ve got no way of asking Shonisani Lethole what he thought about this arrangement where the very people who hardly ever have to use these public facilities, get to make the major choices about them. While the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves. That’s about as messed up as watching silently while Israel is allowed to erase Palestine and Yemen is quietly obliterated.
If there was ever a time to pause long enough to ask ourselves how we can go about doing things better for all of us, it is now. For if we do not stop now and check the choices that have been made for us — and how these continue to impact decision-making going forward, our current global revolution for human dignity (shukran Aya Chebbi for introducing us to the meaning of revolution) will be held back at this point where the holders of power, seek only to entrench that power for themselves and their class peers.
If there was ever a time to pause long enough to digest Nicole Fritz when she said: ‘…we might more carefully seek to make of this country and the fates of its people something that is not arbitrary: a country not merely ordered, which would simply give a veneer of stability to arbitrariness, but a country that is more fully just.’
Leaving the choices about public healthcare, education, transport and all other public goods and services in the hands of millionaire Members of Parliament, Ministers and other high-ranking civil servants is not just dangerous; but twenty plus years later, is looking downright negligent.