Contribution to the Joint Sitting by Dr GNM Pandor, MP, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation: Debate on the 25th Anniversary of the Constitution, 28 May 2021

‘On twenty-five years of our Constitution’

Honourable deputy speaker, honourable members I thank the ANC Chief Whip for giving the rare privilege of participating in this debate commemorating twenty five years since the adoption of the Constitution of a South Africa finally freeing itself from the shackles of apartheid. I acknowledge the presence in the of some of its key drafters, Prince Buthelezi, Hon. Carnin, Rev Meshoe, Speaker Modise, Mr Swartz and Mr James Selfe. We recall those we lost, Dene Smuts, Keen Andrew, Kadar Asmal and Zola Skweyiya.

Our debate will almost certainly be a critical evaluation of the road we have travelled since 1996 and the usual sentiments of doom and gloom we often hear from some in this chamber.

We agreed that our thematic focus for 2021 will be extolling and recollecting our national heroine Charlotte Majeke, a woman of distinction who marked her place in history through excellence, commitment and service. It is absolutely fitting to mark such heroes and heroines as they have left an indelible mark on the socio political landscape of our country.

Let me begin by affirming that the compilation and adoption of our constitution of this nature was one of the boldest decisions taken by our infant democracy. It signaled a decisive and necessary break with our past while simultaneously setting out clear progressive even radical aspirations for the future.

Our Constitution is a result of a long journey by the people of South Africa, of Africa and the world. It draws us together in a manner that no single legal instrument does and is extraordinary testimony of the ingenuity and humanity of millions of South Africans and the legion of men women and communities that entrenched the values and principles that are emphatically elaborated in it.

The Constitution weaves together the struggles for humane treatment and fair play fought for by the Khoisan in the beginning of struggle. Their desire to settle on their land and derive sustenance from it, to breed and rear their cattle and not to be pushed to the margins are embodied in the transformative land rights and recognition of communities elaborated in 1996.

The epic confrontations of the frontier wars of the Xhosa, the Basotho and the Barolong, their dispossession and displacement their yearnings are mirrors in the aspirations of nationhood and unity in the constitution. The brave heroism of Makhanda, Xhosa, Moshoeshoe, Bathoeng and Sekhukhune reverberate.

All honourable members are aware that our constitution was crafted over centuries of experience. This is why we can refer to the African claims of 1946, the Freedom Charter of 1955, the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, the assertion that Africa is for Africans of Sobukwe and the courage and steadfastness of Steven Bantu Biko in his belief that given opportunity the oppressed will achieve excellence and determine their destiny.

Added to these influences are illustrious women fighters, Charlotte Maxeke who showed women’s place is in struggle. Albertina Sisulu who withstood banning prison and brutal assault on family yet emerged with dignity and compassion for South Africa and all her people.  Winnie Madikizela Mandela who would never give up believing that struggle would lead to victory.  It is Mama Winnie whose undying spirit must persuade us to consistently believe that the progressive ambitions of our constitution will be realised that we must never tire of wanting to achieve realisation of its key goals for every person in South Africa.

The leadership of Oliver Tambo and the ANC constitutional committee in formulating Ready to Govern to prepare for drafting a constitution that draws from our history our lived experience and our ambitions. Luminaries such as Kader Asmal, Zola Skweyiya, Frene Ginwala all played a role. Human rights lawyers such as Justice Mohammed, Arthur Chaskalson, and Nelson Mandela believed just laws and accessible judicial institutions were plausible and should apply universally not for a privileged few our Constitution firmly affirms those beliefs.

Idah Mtwana, Helen Joseph, Ray Alexander came from vastly different backgrounds yet are united in the constitution by the full recognition of the rights of workers and the protections they should enjoy. Mary Burton promoted gender equality and the rights of all drawing on these brave men and women and their core beliefs.

The sacrifices, bravery and fearlessness of the young people of 1976, of Mashinini, Hector Peterson, Antoinette Peterson and thousands of others gave life to the right to education and to children’s rights in our document.

Those who shaped the constitution of South Africa number millions. It does not belong to a few, it is our instrument of freedom honouring Kwame Nkurumah, Patrice Lumumba and Sekotore.

We in parliament and government have critical role to play in honour of these men and women and millions others. We need to consistently ensure that the ambitions of service to the people are honoured and realised, that we do support the maturing of a nation united in its diversity. And, that all rights enshrined in the Constitution are accessed and enjoyed by all people in South Africa. We strive for this be not just for ourselves but for all men and women who suffer oppression and exclusion today. This is why we are mandated to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Palestine, of Saharawi, of Cuba and of Myanmar. They too will overcome as our leaders and our people ensured South Africa overcome?

This history of framing our Constitution must be read today alongside the still visible remnants of systematic exploitation and discrimination that continue to scar our nation due to centuries of colonialism and exclusion. The key challenge all of us face is to strengthen our efforts at reversing the precarious socio-economic situation in which millions of the most vulnerable find themselves. We acknowledge that much was been achieved but the full realisation of our constitutional demands much more of each of us.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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