27 April is not only the 20th anniversary of our first inclusive non-racial democratic election:
- It is also the date on which our first non-racial and fully democratic Constitution came into effect;
- Most importantly, it is the date on which all South Africans were endowed with fundamental human rights – including the rights to dignity, equality and non-racialism.
27 April signified a fundamental break from the past. Under the old dispensation Parliament could – and did – make any law it pleased. The courts were obliged to apply the laws that Parliament passed and had very limited judicial space in which to operate.
After 27 April the Constitution and the rule of law became supreme. Our courts could strike down any law or executive action that was not constitutional. 27 April marked the day on which power passed to the people and sovereignty was transferred from Parliament to the Constitution.
27 April did not constitute the victory of some South Africans over others. It was a glorious victory for us all. On 27 April all of us – whatever our race – enjoyed far greater rights and freedoms than any of us had previously enjoyed before.
It was our proudest moment as South Africans – regardless of our race, our gender or our background. To the astonishment of the whole world we had succeeded in overcoming centuries of bitterness, conflict, repression and division to reach an historic agreement on the future of our country.
It was a very difficult process. All sides had to make painful compromises. The negotiations were often marred by violence and suspicion – but, in the end, we overcame these divisions and on 27 April we joined millions of our fellow South Africans in the patient cues that led to the ballot box and to our brave new future.
Since then, our new constitutional democracy has served us well.
- We have resumed our place as a respected member of the international community;
- Our economy is now three times larger than it was in 1994;
- We have built more than 3.5 million new houses and have provided electricity, water and sanitation services to the vast majority of our people;
- We have significantly reduced poverty through the provision of social grants to more than 16 million South Africans;
- Almost a million of our young people are studying at university;
- We have seen the emergence of a vigorous and self-confident black middle class;
- We have broken down walls of prejudice and discrimination and have integrated our schools and social facilities with goodwill and success. Many aspects of our society have transformed out of all recognition;
- There were moments – such as the FIFA World Cup – when we showed the world and ourselves what wonders we could achieve when we work together as South Africans.
Most importantly, for 20 years millions of South Africans have been able to lead their lives and pursue their dreams in conditions of relative peace, personal dignity and harmony. This would not have been the case had we not succeeded in reaching the agreements that led to the establishment of our new society 20 years ago.
It was our 1993 and 1996 Constitutions that laid at the foundation for all these successes.
Unfortunately, some of those foundations are now in danger of being eroded:
- Some South Africans accord higher priority to their political ideologies than they do to the Constitution;
- Public institutions – government departments, parastatals, the SABC, the security services and the National Prosecuting Authority – have been commandeered to promote partisan political objectives;
- People are appointed to key posts – not because of their qualifications, experience and impartiality as required by the Constitution – but because of their political connections.
As a result we are failing to provide essential services to millions of our people. Their dissatisfaction is reflected in more than 30 service delivery protests a day. Most seriously, we are failing to provide decent education to a vast majority of our children. Only one in eight emerges from school with an acceptable qualification.
The application of outmoded and discredited ideologies in economic and labour policy have led to a serious reduction in investment and to unacceptably low economic growth. As a result, only 43% of South Africans between the ages of 15 and 64 are in employment. We are failing to achieve our enormous potential.
This has gone hand in hand with increasingly rampant corruption – some of it sanctioned at the highest levels of the state.
All of this has led to the unacceptable fact that we are now a more unequal society than we were in 1994. From this we may conclude that the policies that we have been following to promote equality are not working.
Most seriously, the introduction of increasingly aggressive – and apparently permanent – race-based discrimination has led to a situation where the prospects of citizens are increasingly determined by the colour of their skin and not the content of their character. We are approaching the point where we will no longer be able to claim that we are a non-racial democracy.
So, on this 20th anniversary of the founding of our new society, I would like to appeal to all South Africans to renew their commitment to our Constitution and to the values that it expresses. Those values include:
- Human dignity; the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms;
- Non-racialism and non-sexism;
- Supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law; and
- A genuine multi-party system of democratic government based on accountability responsiveness and openness.
I am confident that if we can all work in our private and public lives to support these values, we will be able to overcome the challenges that confront us and achieve the enormous potential of our incomparably wonderful country.
About one thing there can be no doubt: despite all our challenges, South Africa today is a much better and fairer country than it was before 27 April 1994. We should all join hands to defend and build on the enormous progress that we have made since then.
Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation