NEWS & ANALYSIS

Constitution a living instrument of fundamental transformation - Ramaphosa

President says debating land issue should fill us with spirit which we approached writing of document

ADDRESS BY PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA AT THE LAUNCH OF CONSTITUTIONAL THEME COMMITTEE BOOKS

OLD ASSEMBLY CHAMBER, PARLIAMENT, CAPE TOWN

11 SEPTEMBER 2018

Programme Director,

Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Baleka Mbete,

Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Ms Thandi Modise,

Honourable Members of Parliament,

Members of the Mandela and Sisulu families,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to have been invited to the launch of these books, which celebrate the spirit, purpose and transformative content of our democratic Constitution.

Together, these books tell a compelling story about our constitution-making process and the many challenging issues with which we had to grapple.

Of course, this is a process which transports many of us here today to a time when our country had a completely different look and feel, politically, economically, socially and technologically.

In fact, our constitutional negotiations started out in smoke-filled rooms, as the media often speculated, and were concluded in fresh air – as demanded by our brand-new constitution!

The cut and thrust of our fledgling democracy and the hopes of our nation at that time ultimately gave rise to the books we are launching today and that we will treasure into the future.

These books serve more than an archival function – they are intended to inform and empower South Africans and enable us to better interpret and understand our constitutional rights.

It is our hope that these books will inspire debate about the meaning of the Constitution and its role in an ever-changing society.

In launching these books, we are celebrating our Constitution as the product of a great and courageous struggle against tyranny.

We are celebrating it as a firm foundation for the creation of a truly united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society.

We must remain loyal to the vision articulated in our Constitution.

It is our responsibility to guarantee the future of our constitutional democracy and ensure that generations to come live in a harmonious and cohesive society liberated of all vestiges of past iniquity.

The Constitution is the best defence our people have against the abuse of power and the violation of their rights.

Ultimately, the Constitution remains our blueprint for a non-racial, non-sexist, prosperous and united South Africa and a future that is brighter than anything that has gone before.

It is fitting that we launch these books in the year that we celebrate the centenaries of Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu.

It is inconceivable that we can talk about the defeat of apartheid, the drafting of the Constitution and the establishment of a constitutional democracy without reflecting on the contributions made by these two icons of struggle.

Tata Mandela and Mama Sisulu belonged to a special generation of people who dared to imagine a future that was different in every respect from that which they occupied.

They imagined a society in which every person is judged by the value of their character, not by the colour of their skin or the circumstance of their birth.

They imagined a society where the right to life, to dignity, to security and to the basic necessities of life is universal and inalienable.

They were loyal and true to the injunction of the Freedom Charter that: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.”

The Constitution that we celebrate today is the culmination of their lives’ work.

Let us continue to build the society of Mandela and Sisulu.

Let us continue to assert the primacy of the Constitution.

It reflects both the history from which we have emerged, and the values we now cherish – human dignity, equality and freedom.

It proclaims to the world that we are a society committed to democracy, to the rule of law and the protection of human rights.

It proclaims to all South Africans, the landless, the homeless, women, workers and the children of this country that their needs and aspirations matter.

It celebrates the richness of the diversity of cultures, religions and beliefs of South Africans, and affirms that all belong as equals in our one nation.

It commits the State to respecting, protecting, promoting and fulfilling the rights in the Bill of Rights and acknowledges that it is not enough for the government simply to refrain from violating people’s rights.

It reminds us that it is also necessary for the government to take positive measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment of human rights by all South Africans.

Through this Constitution, we are working to transform our society from one that is characterised by injustice and strife to one that is defined by justice and peace.

We must see this Constitution, not as a historical artefact, but as a living instrument of fundamental transformation.

With this Constitution, we will change our country and create a better, brighter, more equal future for all our people.

Currently, as we embark on a process to secure equitable land redistribution in our country, our Constitution is taking centre stage again in the life of our nation.

The land question has inspired us to criss-cross the country – much like we did with the Constitutional Assembly – to solicit the views of South Africans of all backgrounds and political persuasions on a critical national issue.

The land question brings us back to these very premises where we chiseled out the founding document of our new democratic republic, and calls on us yet again to exchange views, state our fears, state our hopes and find one another as South Africans.

If nothing else, debating the land issue should fill us with the spirit which we approached the writing of our Constitution.

As we deal with this and seek to heal the wound inflicted on the majority of our people, we want to be filled once again with the spirit, wisdom, courage and legacy of Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu.

The mission of building a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it did not end with the writing of our Constitution.

We are therefore poised today to develop a way that will lead us forward in our democracy as we apply our Constitution to some of the most pressing challenges facing our society, with land at the very apex of this effort.

It is my hope that all of us will draw inspiration from our innovative and widely cited and emulated Constitution to move South Africa forward.

It is indeed in our hands!

I thank you.

Issued by the Presidency, 11 September 2018