Honourable judges, ladies and gentlemen


I would like to welcome you to the Johannesburg launch of the F W de Klerk Foundation Centre for Constitutional Rights.


We chose this venue – in the precincts of our Constitutional Court – to highlight the centrality of our Constitution to the future security, freedom and prosperity of every citizen of this country.  We specifically chose the Women’s Gaol for this function because we also wished to accentuate the importance of our Constitution for the poor and the marginalised of our society.  It reminds us of the enormous distance that we must still travel, before all the people of this country an enjoy all the rights in the Constitution.


Some people have asked me why the F W de Klerk Foundation has established “yet another” organisation to promote the Constitution.  I should like to mention three points in that regard:


Firstly, although I am now a private citizen with no party political affiliation, I believe that I have a clear residual duty to do everything I can to help uphold the 1996 Constitution – the national accord that I helped to launch and negotiate.


I say this, not in the spirit of claiming a sort of ownership to our Constitution.  I say it in the same spirit that Albert Luthuli said:

“What is important is that we can build an homogeneous South Africa on the basis not of colour but of human values.”


In the same spirit that Desmond Tutu said:

“A person is a person through other people.”


In the same spirit that Nelson Mandela said:

“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will experience the oppression of one by another.”


Our Constitution belongs to all of us.  It was rigorously negotiated – on and off – over six long years.  It was adopted by parties that represented substantial majorities from all our communities. During the negotiations all sides had to make painful concessions and compromises.


When the government that I led had played its part in those negotiations, it gladly transferred sovereign power – not to another political party – but to this Constitution.


Secondly, we have established the Centre for Constitutional Rights because of the centrality of the Constitution to our future as a nation.


We don’t think that there can ever be too many organisations supporting our founding document.   However, in practice different organisations tend to concentrate on different sets of rights.


Many of them are doing excellent work in the field of AIDS, or children’s rights, or gender rights – but there are very few organisations that are genuinely involved in promoting the full spectrum of rights in our Constitution.  There are even fewer that are concerned with the rights that the minority parties negotiated into the constitution.   And yet, if we want our constitution to succeed, it must work for all of us – for the majority and the minorities alike.


Thirdly, we decided to establish the Centre for Constitutional Rights because many key rights are under threat:



Many of these concerns are fortunately still the subject of comment and debate.  In a number of instances, Government is clearly taking the objections of stakeholders into account and is trying to find acceptable solutions.  I welcome this.  However, all of us need to be part of these debates.


We must realize that it is inevitable that, with changing circumstances and shifting power relationships, there will be attempts to re-engineer aspects of our Constitution.  All such efforts should, however, be approached with the greatest caution.   The 1996 Constitution articulates a national accord that provides the basis for national unity.  Any attempt to dispense with key rights and democratic practices would have very serious implications for both national unity and for international confidence.


Under all these circumstances, there can be no doubt about the need for vigilance.


The challenge is to make the Constitution work for all South Africans. As our Chief Justice, Pius Langa, recently observed, the Constitution is, without doubt, a transformative document.  Quite rightly, one of its central objectives is to change our society by addressing the continuing inequality and inherited disadvantages of so many of our people.


But as Chief Justice Langa also pointed out, quoting the current Deputy Chief Justice, “the meaning of transformation in juridical terms is as highly contested as it is difficult to formulate”.


I would suggest that the future of our national accord – and indeed of our new society – will be determined by how our courts finally give meaning and content to the concept of balanced transformation.


On the one hand, it is essential that our society should move forward as rapidly as possible to promote equality – which in terms of Section 9 (2) of the Constitution includes “the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms”.


On the other hand, the Constitution also contains the full spectrum of rights that are essential for the maintenance of a prosperous multicultural democracy.  It provides for the protection of the reasonable core interests of all our communities and all elements of society.


We should all enthusiastically and actively support transformation that is intended to help all South Africans to enjoy the full spectrum of rights guaranteed by the Constitution.  However, if transformation is used to abrogate or dilute other constitutional rights – particularly if this is done on the basis of race – it will be a negation of our national accord and will have the direst consequences for national unity, reconciliation and the long-term success of our society.


In practice this means that the courts will continuously have to find a balance between the transformational need to promote the right to equality on the one hand and the need to uphold the rest of our of constitutional rights on the other.    It will need to find a fair balance



It is for these reasons that we at the F W de Klerk Foundation have decided to establish the Centre for Constitutional Rights.  It has no political affiliation and will promote the full spectrum of rights, values and principles in the Constitution.  It supports provisions in the Constitution that promote the equality of people who were previously disadvantaged by unfair discrimination.  It accepts the need for balanced affirmative action and land reform.  However, it will try to ensure that such policies are implemented in a balanced manner consistent with the promotion of all the other constitutional rights.  The Centre will adopt a consensus-seeking, non-confrontational style and will attempt wherever possible to achieve its goals through discussion and persuasion.


I can think of no greater challenge than the challenge of supporting our Constitution and of making it work for all our people.


Let us take hands tonight and accept this challenge.