Constitution a living and imperative document - President Ramaphosa

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

President Cyril Ramaphosa says the Constitution remains an imperative document in government’s pursuit of transforming the lives of all South Africans.

The President was addressing the first day of the three-day National Conference on the Constitution in Midrand.

“The Constitution places on all institutions of State a responsibility to take those measures necessary to build a society that is in nearly all respects different from the society that came before. It places emphasis on the work that must be done to heal the divisions of the past in circumstances where these divisions are manifested in the severe inequality of the present.

“It calls for social justice in circumstances where a large proportion of South Africans live in poverty and where, despite substantial progress, many are still unable to access land, housing, water, food, health care and education.

“The Constitution correctly recognises that to advance this transformational promise, all spheres of government and all organs of state are required to provide “effective, transparent, accountable and coherent governance,” he said.

President Ramaphosa said that through the Constitution, the legislative branch can hold organs of State to account to ensure that they “execute their Constitutional mandates effectively”.

25 years of progress

President Ramaphosa acknowledged that although “a lot of progress has been made in redressing the injustices of the past” in the past quarter century, much more still remains to be done to ensure that the lives of all South Africans are transformed.

“Some of these measures [to improve lives] include the provision of housing, water and sanitation, and social grants for the elderly, persons with disabilities and children. There has been a distinct improvement in access to land, education and health care services. These are part of ongoing efforts to address economic and social injustices.

“However, despite numerous achievements, there are still many challenges in the realisation of the vision, values and prescripts of our Constitution. The persistently high levels of poverty, unemployment, inequality, corruption and violence show that our journey to the promised land is far from over. The success of our constitutional democracy will, to a large extent, depend on how these challenges are addressed,” he said.

He emphasised that government is compelled to address racial boundaries and inequalities that still exist within society.

“The contours of our racist and sexist past still feature in private and public institutions, in business, in access to skills, wealth and opportunity, and in the spatial configuration of our cities, towns and rural areas.  

“South Africa’s constitutional project will fail if vast inequalities and existing levels of poverty are not addressed by all levels of government,” he said.

President Ramaphosa reflected on the painful past and struggle that led to the formulation of the Constitution.

“Our Constitution is the product of long and protracted struggles for freedom, justice, equality, human dignity and a better life for all people.  It is the product of the struggle against colonialism and apartheid, against oppression, subjugation and dispossession.

“In the first certification case of the new Constitution, the Constitutional Court said: South Africa’s past has been aptly described as that of ‘a deeply divided society characterised by strife, conflict, untold suffering and injustice’ which ‘generated gross violations of human rights, the transgression of humanitarian principles in violent conflicts and a legacy of hatred, fear, guilt and revenge.

“Our Constitution is therefore more than the supreme law of our land. It is a firm and emphatic rejection of the political, social and economic system that came before it,” he said.

A way forward

The conference presents a platform for government, civil society and the nation to not only reflect on the last 25 years of the Constitution, but to also deliberate on nation building, gender equality, youth economic empowerment, service delivery and social stability as well as plot a way forward to build on democratic gains.

These objectives, the President said, are critical to ensuring that the Constitution continues to serve South Africans in a progressive and effective way.

“[As] this Conference reflects on the road ahead, it should reflect on issues such as progress on land restitution and reform, electoral reform and governance, and transformation of the economy. It should also reflect on corruption, crime and national security, and how these issues impact on the exercise and protection of human rights.

“It is my sincere belief that this gathering of South Africans in all their diversity will identify actionable measures that will materially contribute towards the achievement of our constitutional goals,” he said. -