The Centre for Constitutional Rights is a unit of the FW de Klerk Foundation – a non-profit organisation – dedicated to promoting and upholding the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (the Constitution). To this end, the CFCR seeks to promote the values, rights and principles enshrined in the Constitution; to monitor developments including conduct, policy and draft legislation that might affect the Constitution and the values, rights or principles provided therein; to inform people and organisations of their constitutional rights; and to assist them in claiming their rights. We have no political party affiliation and engage in all of our activities in the interests of every person in South Africa.
In this regard, I would like to share a few words with you today about freedom and its meaning in context of our Constitution.
Recently, on Freedom Day, we celebrated the birth of our constitutional democracy founded upon the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. We celebrated the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (the Constitution) which, as supreme law, guarantees these fundamental values and rights. We also celebrated freedom itself, without which, democracy easily turns into a demagoguery and despotic government.
Aristotle said “The basis of a democratic state is liberty”. On 27 April 1994, the interim Constitution came into force and provided the basis for both our democracy and freedom. It freed South Africa from a legally and morally indefensible political dispensation and allowed for the first non-racial and truly democratic elections in South Africa on that same day. It replaced parliamentary sovereignty with a doctrine of constitutional supremacy and gave courts the power to declare conduct and laws inconsistent with the Constitution, invalid. Moreover, the interim Constitution enshrined a Bill of Rights which safeguarded universally accepted fundamental rights and freedoms for everyone in the country, therefore prohibiting the state from violating or limiting those rights and freedoms arbitrarily. In short, it brought about a democracy in which government must be based on the will of the people under the Constitution, in which executive powers are limited and subject to parliamentary oversight and judicial review, and in which freedom under the Rule of Law is the norm and not an exception to the rule.