I would like to welcome you all to this first meeting of the Panel of Experts of the Centre for Constitutional Rights.  I am sorry that I cannot be with you in person – but I shall be with you in spirit.  I am making a good recovery after my recent surgery and look forward to supporting the work of the Centre in any way that I can.

When we established the F W de Klerk Foundation, one of our central objectives was that it should play a role in supporting the Constitution.

Initially, we wanted to Foundation to play this role by supporting the work of the National Human Rights Trust which was already in existence; which already had an excellent board under the leadership of Adv Johann Kruger, and which was already dedicated to the constitutional causes that we felt were central to the future success of our new society.

At first we concentrated on trying to raise funds for the NHRT here and overseas – unfortunately with little or no success.  One of the main problems was that, through no fault of its own, the NHRT was a relatively unknown entity.  Finally, last year, we concluded that we would have a better chance of raising funds for the promotion of the constitution if we did so under the name of the F W de Klerk Foundation.  We proved to be correct.  At the end of February good friends arranged a lunch for me at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town during which we received generous funding commitments that  make it possible for us to translate our vision into reality.

The National Human Rights Trust – whose activities have in recent years been seriously curtailed because of a lack of funds, decided last month to disband and to request incorporation into the activities of the new Centre.  We have gladly agreed and are delighted that three of the NHRT’s trustees have agreed to join the Panel.

The funding that we have raised since the end of February has enabled us to appoint the staff who will provide the core of the Centre’s activities.  We have been extremely fortunate in recruiting Paul Hoffman – one of Cape Town’s most prominent silks and a former acting judge – to head the Centre as its Director.  Nikki de Haviland – who has a Master’s degree in law – and extensive experience in several branches of the law – has been appointed as Deputy Director of the Centre and will provide the functional backbone of the unit.  Brenda Bedborough will be working with us to raise the additional funds that will be essential for the Centre’s future success.

During the course of the inaugural meeting Dave Steward and Paul Hoffman will provide you with further details regarding the goals, activities, structure and funding requirements of the Centre.  However, I would like to make a few introductory comments regarding the Panel of Experts.

When we were planning the Centre we realised that no matter how competent the Centre’s staff might be, they would benefit greatly from the advice and support of some of South Africa’s leading constitutional experts.  We felt that a panel of experts would not only be able to play such a role but would lend essential gravitas to our undertaking.

I am truly grateful that all of you agreed so generously and so spontaneously to play such a role.    In the first place I would like to thank Adv Johann Kruger; Mr Johann Marais and Adv Francis Bosman for agreeing to join the Panel.  The experience that they acquired in directing the affairs of the National Human Rights Trust will be invaluable for the Centre.  Adv Johann Kruger – who was the chairman of the NHRT – was until recently a Senior Counsel at the Pretoria Bar and has on numerous occasions been an acting judge; Johann Marais, is a prominent attorney from Stellenbosch; and Adv Francis Bosman, is one of South Africa’s leading experts on family and children’s rights.

I would also like to direct a special word of thanks to Dr Penuel Maduna and Dr Matthews Phosa for agreeing to join the Panel.  Participation by a former Minister of Justice and a former provincial Premier will add enormous weight, prestige and experience to the Panel’s deliberations.  It will also help to ensure that the Panel reflects the full spectrum of concerns regarding the upholding of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

We are also privileged to include in our membership some of South Africa’s leading academics in the field of constitutional law in the persons of Prof Marinus Weichers, former Rector of UNISA; Prof Francois Venter, Dean of Law at Northwest University; Hennie Strydom, Professor of Law at Johannesburg University, and Dr Anthea Jeffrey, a long-time associate of the South African Institute of Race Relations.  We felt that it would also be important to have access to the constitutional advice of a leading political scientist and accordingly invited Prof David Welsh to join the Panel.   I am pleased to announce that, health permitting, Judge Jan Steyn has also agreed to lend his enormous experience to our deliberations.

We do not intend to make any more demands on your time than your busy schedules allow.  We shall hold two formal meetings of the Panel each year.  Apart from that your degree of involvement will be as great or as limited as your time permits.  However, the Centre will truly value any advice or opinions that you might from time to time wish to convey to it.  In particular, we hope that you will bring to the Centre’s attention any matter that you believe might affect constitutional rights.  If there are constitutional questions about which you feel strongly you will be most welcome to use the Centre as a platform to communicate your views.  We hope that you will maintain regular interaction with Paul and Nikki – by telephone, e-mail or correspondence.

All of us share a deep commitment to the Constitution.   I hope that as it grows and develops the Centre will become an increasingly effective ally for all South Africans who wish to uphold the values and the rights that it contains.  I can think of no task more important than upholding our excellent constitution.   It is the foundation of our new society and our best hope for the future happiness, peace and prosperity of all our people.