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;
and Deputy Chairperson of the NCOP;
Deputy President of the Republic, Phumzile
Chief Justice, Honourable Pius Langa and members of the judiciary;
of our political parties;
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers;
Members of Parliament;
Premiers, Mayors and other public representatives;
and members of our Constitutional Institutions Supporting our Democracy;
General and Heads of the Security Organs of the State;
of the Constitutional Assembly, Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa and Mr. Leon Wessels;
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;
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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;
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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."
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:
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
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.
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."
"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
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:
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...' "
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.