9 May 2006
South African President Thabo Mbeki has described the adoption of the country’s constitution 10 years ago as a destination arrived at after traversing 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,” he said.
He was addressing a joint sitting of Parliament as South Africa celebrated the 10th anniversary of the adoption of its Constitution on Monday.
“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.”
Mbeki said the “desperate resistance of the forces of white minority rule” only managed to strengthen the resolve of the masses.
“It only served to steel their determination to persevere until victory was achieved.”
From political freedom to prosperity
The President said that through Asgi-SA and other programmes, the government and its social partners will intensify 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”.
“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%,” Mbeki said.
“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.
“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,” said the President.
Heroes and anniversaries
President Mbeki hailed the 1906 Bambatha uprising, the 1946 mineworkers’ strike, and the women’s anti-pass demonstrations of 1956 as part of 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”.
“They refused that they should abandon the war for liberation, simply because they had lost a battle,” he said.
He said the sacrifices made by the South Africa’s resistance heroes the country’s people 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,” he said.
He reiterated former President Nelson Mandela’s assertion that the Constitution should be used as a tool to redress the centuries of “unspeakable deprivations” by striving to eliminate poverty, illiteracy and homelessness.
“The Constitution enjoins us 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.”
But the President cautioned that the Constitution could only ensure a humane society if South Africans assumed the responsibility of becoming its principal defenders.
This, he said, required citizens to promote their unity in diversity, “jealously” safeguarding the rights of all while entrenching the rule of law and respecting state institutions.”
Reconciliation in the Age of Hope
“That seminal moment of the adoption of our Constitution reminded us that the 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,” Mbeki said.
He added that South Africa should not forget another 10th anniversary, that of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which began its hearings in April 1996.
He said that the task of national reconciliation was not yet complete, nor was the business of implementing all of the TRC’s recommendations.
“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’.
“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,” Mbeki said.