We celebrate our Constitution and those constitutional values, rights and principles which affirm that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. We are, nevertheless, deeply concerned about a growing animosity in society fueled by racialism, individual acts of racism, indifference, disdain, entitlement and resentment, often further perpetuated by politicians and the media for their own respective reasons.
As a society, we have to deal with the things that are going wrong in our country, but we have to do so on the basis of mutual respect. We do not need to agree with each other on how to solve that what is wrong, or who may be the best people or party to solve it – after all, that is what democracy is all about. However, we have to agree to disagree within a framework of dignity – of mutual respect. We have to come to understand that how we as individuals treat each other in our day-to-day lives – what we say and do and how we say and do it – impacts on our society and social cohesion as a whole. We also have to understand that social cohesion is not a function of government (whose behaviour can at best promote unity and at worse destroy it). Instilling social cohesion and mutual respect is up to us as individuals. Unfortunately, the injustices of our past and persistent social and political ills also influence how South Africans view each other, often resulting in people no longer seeing each other as people, but rather as products of our own prejudices.
The Constitution seeks to heal the divisions of the past by laying the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law. It seeks to improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person within a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. In short, it seeks to build a united and democratic South Africa founded on the values of human dignity, the achievement of equality, the advancement of human rights and freedoms, non-racialism and non-sexism, supremacy of the Constitution and rule of law, the right to vote and a multi-party system of democratic government resulting in accountability, responsiveness and openness. However, the Constitution is not self-executing. It only provides the framework and the rules in terms of which everyone in South Africa must give life and meaning to the kind of society the Constitution envisages.
For us to heal the divisions of the past and to build such a society – a society and a South Africa united in its diversity – we have to show and treat each other with mutual respect; whether in politics, our professional lives or social engagement with each other. We have to set our prejudices aside and start building meaningful and equal relationships with those around us. We have to listen to, and learn from each other, and we have to engage in real dialogue with each other. However, each one of us has to do this with uninhibited and unconditional respect for each other. Without mutual respect, unity in diversity will remain merely a phrase in the Preamble to our Constitution.
By Adv Johan Kruger, Director: Centre for Constitutional Rights