Twenty years ago we South Africans did something truly exceptional.
We succeeded – after centuries of division – to plant in the hard soil of Africa a tender young sapling. It was our new Constitution which took root exactly twenty years ago on 27 April 1994.
It was a deed of great beauty that won the admiration of the whole world.
That sapling has since then grown into the tall young tree of our constitutional democracy. It is the tree of freedom.
We all depend for our future on the fruits of justice that it provides us.
Its spreading branches and thick green foliage protect our fundamental rights from all those who might seek to limit them.
From its topmost branches we can see the vision that it promises: it is a vision of
- A society based on human dignity, on the achievement of equality and on the advancement of human rights and freedoms;
- A society free from unfair racial and gender discrimination;
- A society in which the Constitution and the rule of law – and not the politicians controlling the government of the day – are supreme;
- A society governed by a multi-party system of democratic government that is committed to accountability, responsiveness and openness.
All the progress that we have made during the past 20 years has come from this tree of freedom:
- The progress that we have made in establishing a new and vibrant multi-cultural nation;
- The access to fundamental rights that has been expanded for all South Africans;
- The peace that we have enjoyed after so many centuries of conflict and division;
- The respect that is now accorded to us by the international community and by our continent, Africa;
- The foundation for the growth of our economy and for the improvements in the daily lives of tens of millions of South Africans.
None of these successes would have been possible without our constitutional democracy.
Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the all too visible threats to the tree of freedom:
- Its tall trunk is being strangled by the parasitic vine of corruption;
- Ideological caterpillars are eating away the protective foliage of our Bill of Rights;
- The roots of our young tree are being drained of sustenance by the weeds of our own indifference and by our own unwillingness to defend and nurture our Constitution.
On this 20th anniversary of our new society we should all pause for a moment to consider what we have achieved – and where we would be without the protection of our Constitution.
We should use this anniversary to rededicate ourselves to the brave venture that we started 20 years ago:
- We should strip away the choking vines of corruption;
- We should expose and get rid of unconstitutional ideologies that threaten our rights;
- We should all become involved in nurturing our Constitution by
- Defending the independence of our judiciary and chapter nine institutions like the Public Protector; the Human Rights Commission and the Independent Electoral Commission;
- By insisting that our National Prosecuting Authority, our public service, our security forces, our parastatals and the SABC belong to the people – and not to the politicians who control the government of the day; and
- By insisting on – and defending – all the rights in our Bill of Rights for ourselves and for all South Africans.
We have made enormous progress during the past 20 years.
The progress that we continue to make during the next 20 years will depend directly on our ability to continue to nurture the young sapling of constitutional democracy that we planted on 27 April 1994.
The future of everyone in South Africa depends on our ability to be able to do so.