Parliament held a joint sitting of the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) to observe the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Members of Parliament (MPs) paid homage to the courage of those who brought it to fruition and ensured that it broke with the inhumanity of the past. The constitution ushered in new democratic prescripts that became the founding architecture of South Africa’s constitutional democracy.

Opening the debate, the Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor said: “We affirm the adoption of the boldest inscription of our Constitution, which is a cornerstone of our infant democracy and the radical aspirations of our collective future. This Constitution is a testimony of the ingenuity of a legion of countless brave leaders, of heroes and heroines whose radical aspirations for our future and their common democratic principles are mirrored in it.”

The leaders ensured that the principles of our democratic struggle were realised. “One of which is Oliver Tambo whose document Ready to Govern shapes the philosophy of our current Constitution. It’s this document that gave birth to the prescripts that are today the architecture of our constitution.”

Dr Pandor said South African history resembles a long tradition of systematic racial exploitation, and our key challenge is to reverse the socio-economic injustices visited upon the vulnerable people of our country. “This moment affords us an opportunity to assess what more needs to be done to ensure that our people benefit from a document that sets out their ambitions and future aspirations of freedom, equality and human rights.”

The Deputy Chairperson of the NCOP, Ms Sylvia Lucas, said: “The Constitution is a result of many agitations, this includes the Women’s Charter which was incepted in 1954. Its 12 articles articulate the equal recognition of women’s rights in all aspects of life, which are now enshrined in the Bill of Rights of our constitution. Freedom “is a point of reference for the discourse on gender equality. And for the inception of positive sets of gender tools and instruments and their machinery which underpin the theory of change.”

“We found these sets of gender tools lacking in provinces during our Provincial Women’s Charter sessions due to lack of resources, and lack of engendered responsive to gender budgeting to foster women empowerment “to improve women material conditions and to change pattern of ownership of means of production in favour of women.”

Ms Natasha Mazzone of the NA said: “The inception of the Constitution signalled a change of a nation united in diversity. A nation that seeks to restore the culture of human rights and to free the potential of each and every individual. We are, therefore, proud for those who wrote this document for their forward thinking and inclusive. But also, it’s essential to hold accountable those who undermine it. Those who undermine our constitution are engaged in an act of treason. They should not be ignored; they should be put behind bars.”

She urged parliamentarians to ensure that the Constitution reigns supreme. “It’s therefore our job to protect the constitution at all cost. We have sworn to an oath of upholding it. Holding it we shall. May our constitution reign supreme.”

MP Ms Ntombovuyo Mente said: “But if truth be told the Constitution is a stone wall for the perpetrators of injustices. It supports the continuation of racial discrimination. We must ask ourselves what the struggle was for? If it continued to sustain a system that suppresses our people.

 “We were not fighting for vague equalities. We won’t allow a situation in which colonisers continue to live a life of kings in our lands. To keep the land while we remain landless.”

As it stands, “This Constitution is a pact between the political elite and the colonizers. We will amend this Constitution to take land from thieves and we will fight until we attain land restitution and economic freedom in our life time.”

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi said one of the sterling achievements of the Constitution is its proclamation of one law for one nation. He said: “But what it failed to achieve is to recognise indigenous and customary laws.” As a result of that, he said, there is no provision in it for the roles and responsibilities of traditional leadership. There have been promises to that effect, but such promises have been broken. “I will not retire as an MP before the finalisation of land expropriation clause in the Constitution,” he added.

Mr Petrus Mulder said the South African Constitution is hailed as the jewel crown of the best in the world, if so why is South Africa faced with so many troubles? Is it because of the ruling party or of the policies it is based on, he asked. He blamed much of the current woes on the racial provisions of the Constitution. In his view, 25 years of the Constitution marks the 25 years of misrule through the courtesy of the provision of the constitution.

The President of South African Local Government Association (Salga), Ms Thembi Nkadimeng said: “In keeping with the prescripts of the Constitution we have made strides in realising the rights of our people and to uphold their human dignity. As we reflect on the commitments of our Constitution, we take stock of our own commitment and we are pleased to announce that we have gone a long way in delivering basic services to our people . . . We take this moment to renew our commitment to a people-centred local government sphere.”

Another MP Mr Vuyolwethu Zungula said there is not much to celebrate because South Africa remains one of the most unequal society in the world. It has 30 million people who are unemployed and is the rape capital of the world.

MP Mr Shaun August said: “There is a growing tendency to blame the yawning gap between fairness and injustices to the Constitution, which often camouflages government failure to address landlessness, poverty and inequality and corruption in the last 25 years. In all these years, government has failed to use the tools provided with by the Constitution to bring about necessary reforms. “We need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves what we can do better to fix our mounting problems rather than blame the constitution.” 

Mr Ahmed Shaik- Emam said: “In the last 25 years we have learnt new lessons. Surely, we have learnt new experience that necessitate the amendment of our constitution “to ensure that our constitution protects the rights of all South Africans. That everyone irrespective of race, gender or creed enjoy the fruits of our Constitution.”

Mr Bantu Holomisa said: “The Bill of Rights enshrined in our Constitution is not a wish list. It seeks to empower our people and to ensure that the state plays a role to make these rights manifest. Regrettably, instead of upholding this Bill, the state has written a new chapter of corruption in the Constitution.”

Mr William Madisha said, “We should not lose sight of the fact that the constitution signals a victory of the will of the people and is a result of many sacrifices for freedom and equal rights that we enjoy today.”

Mr Yunus Carrim of the NCOP said, “The authors of the Constitution realised that the only way to reduce the material inequality was to address the economic exploitation of black people.” This was based on the notion that “we don’t want freedom without bread and we don’t bread without freedom”. The basic material rights of black people needed to be addressed for the full realisation of freedom. “People have been patient with us, but for how long. We must learn from history,” he warned.

Mr Zakhele Mbhele of the NCOP said: “Our Constitution is stark illustration of the stark difference between conceptualisation and implementation. For it to be realised, we need a capable state. But we inherited instead is a corrupt and incapable state that finds it difficult to translate the principle of the constitution into reality.”  

In closing the debate, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr Ronald Lamola said that the greatest intent of “our Constitution is to bring about social justice, social cohesion and nation-building”.

After so much wrangling and opposing views on what the Constitution had, should and could have achieved, Mr Lamola said: “We have a responsibility to build a nation based on the Bill of Rights.” We should bring everyone and minorities at the centre of this cause to construct a country that we all want. As such, we committed to taking South Africa forward and to promote that which binds us together than that which divides us.”

He added: “We should utilise this commonality to resolve our socio-economic conditions. And to utilise our constitutional democracy as our moral campus in attaining the South Africa for which we all aspire.”

Abel Mputing
1 June 2021