South Africa’s Constitution: youth weigh in

12 April 2016

Almost 100 young South Africans aged between 19 and 22 were asked by the Nelson Mandela Foundation how the Constitution and Bill of Rights affected their lives. Their answers are on display at the foundation in an exhibition entitled My Constitution.

“I’m very pleased that young people are as outspoken about the Constitution as they are,” said Denis Goldberg, anti-apartheid activist and Rivonia trialist, who attended the launch on 17 March in Houghton, Johannesburg. “Some are for it, some are against, but they speak out with integrity.”

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The foundation’s chief executive, Sello Hatang, said that 20 years after its adoption, he was still amazed at what a remarkable document the Constitution was. Its authors had vision and foresight regarding the kind of society they wanted to build.

“The one question that bothers all of us, that should bother all of us is. are we still on course?”

Issues youth raised

According to Hatang, the exhibition gives a voice to young South Africans and “forces us to listen to their experiences over the past 20 years of how the Constitution has worked for them but, more importantly, where the Constitution has failed our people”.

Gugu Mthethwa, one of the young respondents, said: “My Constitution makes me more responsible and mindful of the things I do, how I act towards other people and how I would like to be treated.”

Others, such as Balungile Radebe, raised critical questions. “We are the born-frees. Are we free from HIV? Are we free from ridiculous fees? Are we free from oppression? Are we free from poverty? No.”

Clive Makhetha said: “I value freedom of association. I can be with people I want to be with at any time or place. I’m not restricted.”

Constitution as post-conflict document

Wandisa Phama, candidate attorney at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, described the Constitution as beautiful when she spoke at the launch. “I think all of us in this room have a sense of the beauty of this Constitution and, as much as there are things that we can question, there are things that we can celebrate.

“So when the foundation asked me to give a brief reflection of what it meant to be a young South African 21 years into our democracy, I thought to myself it meant a number of things – but what it means for each individual really depends on the lens that, as a person, you use to look at things.”

Phama said each person’s lens was influenced by factors such as gender, socio-economic conditions, and race.

Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who served 10 years on Robben Island, explained that the Constitution was a “post-conflict” document. It was aimed at “moving us from a dark, dim and terrible past to an inclusive society that celebrates diversity”.

The Constitution gave voice to every man and woman by giving them the right to take part in elections and decide who was in power.

Quoting Frantz Fanon, the Afro-Caribbean philosopher, revolutionary and writer, Moseneke urged the youth “accomplish or betray their own mission”.

“Mr Mandela and other great freedom fighters have not sold out,” he said. “They laid down beginnings that leave you with the clear mission to change your world within the values of a great Constitution.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s Constitution being signed into law.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation