Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at a Joint Sitting of the Houses of Parliament on the Occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Cape Town, 8 May 2006

Madam Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly;
Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the NCOP;
Deputy President of the Republic, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka;
Chief Justice, Honourable Pius Langa and members of the judiciary;
Leaders of our political parties;
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers;
Honourable Members of Parliament;
Premiers, Mayors and other public representatives;
Leaders and members of our Constitutional Institutions Supporting our Democracy;
Directors General and Heads of the Security Organs of the State;
Former Chairpersons of the Constitutional Assembly, Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa and Mr. Leon Wessels;
Governor of the Reserve Bank, the Honourable Tito Mboweni;
Our religious, trade union, business and other leaders of civil society;
Your Excellencies Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Distinguished Guests;
Members of the press;
Ladies and gentlemen:

First of all, on behalf of our government and people, I would like to thank our Presiding Officers and our National Parliament as a whole for taking the initiative to bring all of us together today to celebrate the adoption by the then Constitutional Assembly of our Constitution in this very House, exactly 10 years ago. I am indeed very honoured and privileged to address the Joint Sitting of the Houses of Parliament on this historic occasion.

As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of our Constitution, we cannot but recall and salute the contributions of all sectors of South African society and millions across the world to the great victory of the cause of freedom and democracy in our country.

But clearly, the tenth anniversary of the adoption of our Constitution also provides an opportunity for the nation to assess the progress we have made and the problems we have experienced, as we worked to build the society and consolidate the democracy visualised in our Constitution.

The milestone we celebrate today should also serve to reinvigorate the transformation of the unity and solidarity we built during the course of our struggle for freedom, into a durable partnership for reconstruction and development, and the building of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

We adopted the supreme law of the land in1996 having traversed a long road stained with the blood of many South Africans, both black and white. It was a long road that would have seemed forbidding to the faint hearted, and appeared to the pessimists to have no possible end, except the constant repetition of a mirage that presented itself as the final destination.

Yet, to many to whom justice was not negotiable, the challenges we had to confront on the difficult march to freedom, including the desperate resistance of the forces of white minority rule, only served to steel their determination to persevere until victory was achieved.

A century ago in April 1906, when it would have been impossible to foretell the day of freedom both for ourselves and the rest of our colonised continent, Pixley ka Isaka Seme nevertheless uttered inspiring words at Columbia University in New York, which are surely relevant to our celebrations today. And this is what he said:

"The brighter day is rising upon Africa. Yes, the regeneration of Africa belongs to this new and powerful period. The African people... possess a common fundamental sentiment which is everywhere manifest, crystallising itself into one common controlling idea. The regeneration of Africa means that a new and unique civilisation is soon to be added to the world."

These words were uttered during the same month that the Bambatha Rebellion in present-day KwaZulu-Natal began, and the same year when colonialism displayed its barbarism by parading to the masses whom Inkosi Bambatha had led, what it claimed was his severed head.

Not content to capture this outstanding hero of our people, as it did, colonialism sought to cow the people into submission through the sheer terror and horror that would result from coming face-to-face with the human head of an outstanding leader of the people, deliberately and violently decoupled from the human body.

Fortunately, these heroic people, who knew that "the brighter day is rising upon Africa", refused to accept that they should abandon the war for liberation, simply because they had lost a battle. It was therefore right and proper that, as we have done, we should commemorate the centenary of Bambatha Rebellion.

Further to this, we must underline the fact that the act of the adoption of our Constitution constituted the creation of a permanent monument and an indelible tribute to the heroes and heroines of this Rebellion, as well as the countless others that sacrificed their lives so that as a people we could, today, pride ourselves on having one of the best Constitutions in the world.

As we have said before, this year we will also mark the Centenary of the launch of Satyagraha by that peerless son of India and South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi, which helped to define the course of the struggle for liberation in both these sister countries.

In addition to the struggle that marked this launch, the mineworkers' strike and the passive resistance campaign of 1946, the women's anti-pass march of 1956 and the treason trial arrests of that year, as well as the 1976 student uprising, all recall the sustained effort that finally made it possible for us to attain our freedom and for the Constitution we celebrate today to come into being.

The sacrifices made to bring about this outcome must instil in us an unflinching determination to uphold, respect, protect and promote the Constitution born of those sacrifices. By so doing, we would also uphold, respect, protect and promote the values and principles of those whom we honour as our heroes and heroines.

Indeed, the Constitution itself enjoins us to:

Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

This Constitution was the product of the labours of South African men and women who were prepared to put aside their differences and work for the common good. We are happy that many of those who toiled day and night to give us this beautiful product are present at this august Joint Sitting of the two Houses of Parliament.

In this regard, we should never forget the outstanding dedication to their historic task of the patriots who negotiated our Constitution, the immensity of the effort that was required for us to reach agreement, and the respect for the sovereign voice of the masses of our people, which resulted in extensive popular participation in the constitution-making process. It is therefore fitting that, once again, we salute and pay humble tribute to all who were involved in this noble effort.

Through our Constitution, we laid the basis for the construction of a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, united and prosperous society based on justice, equality, the rule of law, the inalienable human rights of all our citizens, and freedom from hunger and want.

By this means, we made the statement that no individual among us, and no sector of our society, could live in conditions of liberty, peace, prosperity and happiness except in the context of the construction of the new South Africa visualised in our Constitution.

Today must therefore serve as an occasion for all our people and echelons of our society, without exception, to recommit themselves to the national effort to uphold and promote the ideals and values of the Constitution. Indeed the Constitution can only achieve its full force as an instrument for the creation of the new and humane society we seek to build, when the millions of our people fully assume their responsibility as the principal defenders of that Constitution.

The principles and outlook bequeathed by our founding settlement as reflected in our Constitution, which ended over three centuries of a bitter and costly conflict, must be protected at all times, to ensure that we promote our unity in diversity, jealously safeguard the rights of all our people, and entrench the rule of law and respect for the institutions of state, so that we are never again confronted by the scourge of tyrannical rule.

Determined to honour the vision of those who laid down their lives for our freedom, as we adopted the Constitution we committed ourselves to work for the reconstruction and development of our country so that in time, but as quickly as possible, none of our people should be condemned to suffer from hunger, from the degradation of poverty, the humiliation of homelessness, the indignity of joblessness or the marginalisation caused by illiteracy.

We confidently stated that we will work for a society where no one would ever again experience social discrimination, racial or sexual oppression, political repression or economic marginalisation.

That seminal moment of the adoption of our Constitution reminded us that there is strength in unity, that South Africans, black and white, are capable of overcoming their differences and working together for a society whose development, success and prosperity would be brought about by a united national effort inspired by a New Patriotism.

And yet, even as we sang our songs of freedom, as we acclaimed the unwavering determination of South Africans to redefine themselves in their own terms, as all of us from different parties and backgrounds declared that we were together Africans, we were equally aware that the work of transforming and rebuilding our divided society would demand great application, selflessness and stamina.

In this regard, what President Mandela said when we adopted the Constitution, must serve to remind all of us of our Constitutional obligations to the people of this country. On that occasion he advised that:

"The new Constitution obliges us to strive to improve the quality of life of the people. In this sense, our national consensus recognises that there is nothing else that can justify the existence of government but to redress the centuries of unspeakable deprivations, by striving to eliminate poverty, illiteracy, homelessness and disease. It obliges us, too, to promote the development of independent civil society structures.

"While in the past, diversity was seen by the powers-that-be as a basis for division and domination; while in earlier negotiations, reference to such diversity was looked at with suspicion; today we affirm in no uncertain terms that we are mature enough to derive strength, trust, and unity from the tapestry of the language, religious and cultural attributes that make up our nation."

President Mandela repeated this important message when he signed the Constitution into law on International Human Rights Day, December 10, 1996, in Sharpeville, the site of the Sharpeville Massacre 36 years earlier, in 1960. On this occasion he said:

"Let us now, drawing strength from the unity which we have forged, together grasp the opportunities and realise the vision enshrined in this Constitution. Let us give practical recognition to the injustices of the past, by building a future based on equality and social justice. Let us nurture our national unity by recognising, with respect and joy, the languages, cultures and religions of South Africa in all their diversity. Let tolerance for one another's views create the peaceful conditions which give space for the best in all of us to find expression and to flourish. Above all let us work together in striving to banish homelessness, illiteracy, hunger and disease.

"In all sectors of our society - workers and employers, government and civil society, people of all religions, teachers and students, in our cities, towns and rural areas, from north to south and east to west - let us join hands for peace and prosperity. In so doing, we will redeem the faith which fired those whose blood drenched the soil of Sharpeville and elsewhere in our country and beyond. Today we humbly pay tribute to them in a special way. This is a monument to their heroism…(Thus) we give life to our nation's prayer for freedom regained and (a) continent reborn…"

Undoubtedly, as we adopted the Constitution, we knew that to reverse the legacy of 350 years of colonialism and apartheid would be a mammoth task.

We knew that to heed the call made by President Mandela to improve the quality of life of the people we needed to engage in a new titanic struggle truly to create a new society.

So great was the task we faced and continue to face to this day, that we knew that Pixley ka Isaka Seme had been right when he had said 90 years earlier, that our victory, and the victories of the peoples of our continent, would mean that "a new and unique civilisation…(would) be added to the world."

To "redress the centuries of unspeakable deprivations, by striving to eliminate poverty, illiteracy, homelessness and disease", as President Mandela urged us to do, means and meant that we had to change virtually everything we inherited, including our economy, which must grow with perhaps unprecedented vigour, producing wealth that must be shared by all South Africans.

To "derive strength, trust and unity from the tapestry of languages, religious and cultural attributes that make up our nations", we have to continue working for reconciliation among our people, who, for centuries, were divided and set against one another by our savage past.

In this regard, we cannot omit to mention that the Truth and Reconciliation began its hearings 10 years ago, in April 1996. This Special Session of Parliament must therefore also serve as yet another national occasion when we pay tribute to the Archbishop Emeritus, the Rt Rev Desmond Tutu, other members and the staff of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as the organisations and citizens who addressed and otherwise assisted the TRC in its vital work.

With regard to our continuing task of national reconciliation, it is worth recalling what we said when we received the Final Report of the TRC on Human Rights Day, March 21, 2003. On that occasion we said:

"The Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995, which authorised the establishment of the TRC, says that 'the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1993, provides a historic bridge between the past of a deeply divided society characterised by strife, conflict, untold suffering and injustice, and a future founded on the recognition of human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence for all South Africans, irrespective of colour, race, class, belief or sex...'

"It goes on to say that 'the Constitution states that the pursuit of national unity, the well-being of all South African citizens and peace, require reconciliation between the people of South Africa and the reconstruction of society...There is need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimisation...' "

The task to accomplish national reconciliation has not yet been concluded, including the implementation of some of the recommendations of the TRC. But above all, we continue to face the challenge to achieve the balanced and mutually reinforcing outcome mentioned in the TRC Act, of "reconciliation between the people of South Africa and the reconstruction of society."

We have to continue to work for national and social cohesion among our people, who were taught that they were permanent victims of God-ordained differences that were irreconcilable. As part of this, we have to restore the integrity of our social fabric and ensure moral regeneration, affecting all aspects of human endeavour.

This must focus on the restoration of respect for the dignity of every individual among all our people, and the rekindling of the spirit of human solidarity and mutual respect that are central to the concept and practice of ubuntu.

Ten years to the day, after we met here to adopt our Constitution, we know that our estimation that we were faced with arduous challenges was correct. We know now, as we knew then, that the entrenchment and respect for the civil liberties, for the social, economic and political rights spelt out in our Constitution, would themselves demand that we engage in a continuing struggle.

We knew then, as we know now, that we faced a challenging task both to educate our people about the rights they had won through struggle, as reflected in the Constitution, and equally important, the obligations imposed on all of us by the establishment of the democratic, constitutional order.

It is therefore important that all institutions of state, including this and other legislatures, as well as organs of civil society, should educate our people everywhere about the basic law of our land, the Constitution we adopted exactly 10 years ago today.

Together we must strive to ensure that learners, students and educators, workers in the factories, on the mines, the farms, building sites and offices, the citizens in uniform, men and women, the young and the elderly, people with disabilities, the rural and urban communities, people of all faiths, the artists, scientists, engineers and other professionals, all understand and are able to pursue and protect the rights contained in our Constitution, as well as honour our national flag and national anthem, our coat of arms and our national orders.

At the same time, we must also strive to ensure that all of us understand that freedom does not translate into license, into an unlimited right for anyone of us to do as they please, regardless of the law. We must understand that none of us has a right to pursue what we believe is due to us by compromising the rights of another.

We must understand also that, as the Freedom Charter said, all must be equal before the law, with none among us acting as though they are above the law, acting in a manner that deliberately seeks to undermine, weaken or discredit the institutions of the democratic state.

Those who serve in government must, on a daily basis, live up to the injunction contained in our Constitution, that "All spheres of government and all organs of state within each sphere must preserve the peace, the national unity and the indivisibility of the Republic; secure the well-being of the people of the Republic; (and) provide effective, transparent, accountable and coherent government for the Republic as a whole…"

Nowhere does the Constitution we celebrate today provide that those who serve in government are permitted to abuse their power to undermine the objective to secure the well-being of the people of the Republic. Nowhere does it say that any public representative or official serves in any organ of state in order to misuse state power to enrich themselves or acquire any benefits that would otherwise not be due to them according to law.

This we must understand as well, that the freedom we have won, and the rights codified in our Constitution, mean that we have the means to address our demands and solve disputes by peaceful means, without resort to violence. Indeed it means that, by definition, resort to violence within our democracy is inherently directed against the democratic system itself.

Equally, the outstanding outcome of the heroic struggles of our people, the Constitution we celebrate today, means that we must respect the results of the exercise by the people of their right to vote and elect governments of their choice, affecting all spheres of government.

We must understand that any of our parties may win or lose elections, but that whether we win or we lose, we must always celebrate the consequence fundamental to a bright future for our country and people, that free and fair elections represent the triumph of the democracy for which many sacrificed their lives, regardless of who is in, and who is out of the seat of government.

I am certain that all of us in this chamber and millions throughout our country fully understand that we must use our gift of freedom to redress the historical socio-economic imbalances inherited from our unfortunate past that are, in part, currently characterised by a thriving First Economy, which is part of the modern global economy, and the Second Economy that has little access to modern technology and the resources necessary for its development and transformation.

If we assert, as the National Assembly and the NCOP are doing this year, that "all shall have equal rights", this means, among others, that we have to accelerate the pace of addressing the immense challenges of the Second Economy and ensure that those who subsist within this economy also have the means and opportunities to escape from the dehumanising trap of poverty and underdevelopment.

In this regard, as a country, we should be proud that we have, within the limitations imposed by our available resources, remained true to the constitutional prescriptions to strive to achieve the socio-economic rights of our people.

We have done this among other things by helping to improve the lives of the poor through social grants, the provision of houses, ensuring access to clean water and health facilities, improving the economy and opening the doors of learning and of culture to many of our compatriots.

Our system of social grants now reaches more than 10 million people, especially encompassing the most vulnerable in our society. Over 10 million people have gained access to clean water. Over 2 million housing subsidies have been granted since 1994. Plans are in place to ensure that all households have access to electricity by 2012.

Indeed, the national effort to translate our Constitutional prescriptions into tangible and palpable reality has meant that between 1994 and 2004, the real incomes of the poorest 20% of our population increased by 30%. We have therefore made bold to assert that we will achieve the Millennium Development Goals well within the time frames set by the United Nations Organisation.

Through such programmes as the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa, ASGISA, we will intensify our efforts to ensure that our political freedom also translates into a growing economy that improves the standard of living and the quality of life especially of the poor in our society.

During the First Decade of Freedom the economy grew on average by 3%, higher than population growth, creating over 2 million new jobs. However, all of us are fully aware that this was not enough to reduce the unacceptable level of unemployment in our country.

Through ASGISA and other programmes, working together with our social partners, which also have an obligation to discharge their responsibilities, we are certain that during this Second Decade of Freedom, we will do significantly better with regard to the challenge of job creation and poverty reduction, than we did in our First Decade of Liberty.

Further, during the First Decade of Freedom, we have taken giant strides forward to reconstruct the state machinery, making it increasingly sensitive to the needs of the people, and ensuring that it extends quality services to all our people without regard to race, colour, gender, age or geographic location.

We have put in place Batho Pele, Project Consolidate and other initiatives, because we remain acutely conscious of the need continuously to improve the capacity of government to serve the people.

Again, during the years of Freedom, we improved the safety and security of our citizens, among other things by reducing the incidence of serious crimes such as murder and car hijacking. However, much more needs to be done.

By employing more police officers, better training, improved crime intelligence, better and prompt response from the police to complaints by the citizenry, establishing close working relations between the police and communities and enhancing the efficiency of the criminal justice system as a whole, we will continue to communicate the message that crime does not pay.

The complex of the achievements we have mentioned, and the base we have created to accelerate our progress towards the realisation of the goal of a better life for all, in all its elements, define the Age of Hope into which our country has entered.

As we mark the 10th Anniversary of the adoption of our Constitution, we must, once again, recall and pay tribute to the sustained act of solidarity by the people of Africa and the world, which made such a decisive contribution to the victory we celebrate today.

We are therefore highly honoured to have with us sitting in the House, and are happy to salute the esteemed Ambassadors and High Commissioners who represent the peoples and countries who stood with us during the difficult years when to speak of freedom was to invite death.

That act of solidarity underlined the responsibility of liberated South Africa to position itself among the forces in Africa and the world which work consistently, regardless of the scale and complexity of the challenge, to help build a better and just world order, which respects and promotes the rights of all nations.

With regard to our own continent, we will continue do everything possible to realise the prophetic vision conveyed by Pixley ka Isaka Seme when, a century ago, he said:

"The brighter day is rising upon Africa. Yes, the regeneration of Africa belongs to this new and powerful period…The regeneration of Africa means that a new and unique civilisation is soon to be added to the world."

When we addressed the Constitutional Assembly and the nation from this podium exactly 10 years ago today, speaking on behalf of the African National Congress, we said:

"This thing that we have done today, in this small corner of a great continent that has contributed so decisively to the evolution of humanity, says that Africa reaffirms that she is continuing her rise from the ashes. Whatever the setbacks of the moment, nothing can stop us now!

"Whatever the difficulties, Africa shall be at peace! However improbable it may sound to the sceptics, Africa will prosper! Whoever we may be, whatever our immediate interest, however much we carry baggage from our past, however much we have been caught by the fashion of cynicism and loss of faith in the capacity of the people, let us err today and say - nothing can stop us now!"

Some may very well ask whether we continue to uphold that statement of faith, as Pixley ka Isaka Seme upheld the continent's collective faith in Africa's renaissance a century ago.

Were such a question to be posed, I would repeat what I said on May 8, 1996, that:

"I am born of a people who are heroes and heroines. I am born of a people who would not tolerate oppression. I am of a nation that would not allow that fear of death, torture, imprisonment, exile or persecution should result in the perpetuation of injustice.

"The great masses who are our mother and father will not permit that the behaviour of the few results in the description of our country and people as barbaric. Patient because history is on their side, these masses do not despair because today the weather is bad. Nor do they turn triumphalist when, tomorrow, the sun shines. Whatever the circumstances they have lived through and because of that experience, they are determined to define for themselves who they are and who they should be."

In reply to the challenging question that would be posed, I would say that as a consequence of all this:

- regardless of any dark clouds and any eclipse that might have, temporarily, dimmed the sacred light and tempered the warmth of the African sun, today and during the extraordinary decade since we adopted our Constitution;

- whatever might be happening today and might have happened in the last ten years on our streets and villages, in our houses and our hearts, today and the decade past;

- I insist still, as Pixley ka Isaka Seme would have insisted if he still lived;

- as our martyrs would insist if they had survived through the generations, defying death through unnatural and natural causes, at last to rejoice at the fruition of their sacrifices;

- conscious that though their bodies lie in their silent graves, our national and international heroes and heroines continue to move us to strive to achieve the seemingly impossible;

I would insist and confirm that "the brighter day is rising upon Africa", and that, "whatever the setbacks of the moment, nothing can stop us now!" This celebration today, of a truly historic achievement, must communicate the message that the heroic people of our country, both black and white, have indeed entered into their Age of Hope.

On this memorable day when we celebrate the birth of our Constitution, 10 years ago, on behalf of our Government, and in my own name, I extend our best wishes to all who are gathered here today and to all our people, confident that together we will ensure that as Pixley ka Isaka Seme directed, we will, through our actions, ensure the regeneration of Africa and therefore the addition to the world of a new and unique civilisation. I thank you for your attention.

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