Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like, before I make a short closing statement, to thank the donors who have, so generously, made it possible for us to establish the Centre about which you have just been briefed.  I can think of no task that is more important at this stage in our history – and no cause that is more worthy of support, than upholding the 1996 Constitution and the historic national accord that it represents.   I would like to wish Dave Steward, Advocate Paul Hoffman, Advocate Nikki de Havilland and Danie Keet (who will be managing the Centre’s communication) every success with the challenges that lie ahead.  They constitute a formidable team.  I know that I can rely on them.

This little book that I hold in my hand contains the hopes and dreams of 47 million South Africans for justice, freedom, peace and prosperity.

It is the South African Constitution.

It is the foundation of our new society.

It articulates the values on which the new South Africa was founded – values that include human dignity, equality and human rights and freedoms.

It expresses the vision for which we strive,

a vision of a South Africa in which all our people will be able to enjoy all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution

– not just in theory but in practice.

The Constitution also provides the basis for national unity, for reconciliation and the resolution of centuries of conflict and injustice.

It belongs to us all.

It was rigorously negotiated – on and off – over six long years and was adopted by parties that represented substantial majorities from all our communities. During the negotiations all sides had to make painful concessions and compromises.

When the government that I led had played its part in those negotiations it gladly transferred sovereign power – not to another political party – but to this Constitution!

Our ability to reach a national accord on so many key values, rights and freedoms in so complex a society after so many centuries of division and bitterness, constitutes the essence of the South African miracle.

This historic national accord guarantees the basic rights of all our people.  It addresses the concerns of those who at the dawn of the new South Africa had much to lose – and the aspirations of those who for too long had been denied justice, equality, political rights and a fair share in the economy.

It recognises the multicultural nature of our country and the equality of all our communities.  It rejects the idea that any single culture or race should enjoy any kind of hegemony over any other culture or race. It guarantees our right to participate in the cultural life of our choice and to use our languages – including our right to be educated in the language of our choice.

It also makes provision for genuinely democratic governance through free elections; government that is subject to the law; the separation of powers and a judiciary that is impartial and independent.

As our Chief Justice, Pius Langa, recently observed, the Constitution is, without doubt, a transformative document.  Quite rightly, one of its central objectives is to change our society by addressing the continuing inequality and inherited disadvantages of so many of our people.

But as Chief Justice Langa also pointed out, quoting the current Deputy Chief Justice, “the meaning of transformation in juridical terms is as highly contested as it is difficult to formulate”.

I would suggest that the future of our national accord – and indeed of our new society – will be determined by how our courts finally give meaning and content to the concept of balanced transformation.

On the one hand, it is essential that our society should move forward as rapidly as possible to promote equality – which in terms of Section 9 (2) of the Constitution includes “the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms”.

The unacceptable and unsustainable reality is that half of our people have hardly benefited at all from our new society. It is imperative that government should take legislative and other measures to ensure that disadvantaged South Africans should have full and equal enjoyment of fundamental rights.  Decent education, housing, health care, food, water and social security are the core issues at stake.

On the other hand, the Constitution also contains the full spectrum of rights that are essential for the maintenance of a prosperous multicultural democracy.  It provides for the protection of the reasonable core interests of all our communities and all elements of society.

We should all enthusiastically and actively support transformation that is intended to help all South Africans to enjoy the full spectrum of rights guaranteed by the Constitution.  However, if transformation is used to abrogate or dilute other constitutional rights – particularly if this is done on the basis of race – it will be a negation of our national accord and will have the direst consequences for national unity, reconciliation and the long-term success of our society.

In practice this means that the courts will continuously have to find a balance between the transformational need to promote the right to equality on the one hand and the need to uphold the rest of our of constitutional rights on the other.    It will need to find a fair balance

In carrying out their great responsibility, our courts must, in terms of Section 165 of the Constitution, apply the law and the Constitution “impartially, and without fear, favour or prejudice.”  They must accordingly reject any pressure from any quarter to identify with any sectional interest in society.

During the coming years there will inevitably be tension between the demands of transformation on the one hand and some of the other rights and freedoms in the Constitution on the other.  Individuals and organs of civil society will need to participate actively in the national debate on these issues.

It is for these reasons that we at the F W de Klerk Foundation have decided to establish the Centre for Constitutional Rights.  It has no political affiliation and will promote the full spectrum of rights, values and principles in the Constitution.  It supports provisions in the Constitution that promote the equality of people who were previously disadvantaged by unfair discrimination.  It accepts the need for balanced affirmative action and land reform.  However, it will try to ensure that such policies are implemented in a balanced manner consistent with the promotion of all the other constitutional rights.  The Centre will adopt a consensus-seeking, non-confrontational style and will attempt wherever possible to achieve its goals through discussion and persuasion.

For my own part, although I am now a private citizen with no party political affiliation, I believe that I have a clear residual duty to do everything I can to uphold our national accord and the 1996 Constitution that I helped to launch and negotiate.

I say all this, not in the spirit of claiming a sort of ownership to our Constitution.  I say it in the same spirit that Albert Luthuli said:

“What is important is that we can build an homogeneous South Africa on the basis not of colour but of human values.”

In the same spirit that Desmond Tutu said:

“A person is a person through other people.”

In the same spirit that Nelson Mandela said:

“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will experience the oppression of one by another.”

I call on you, ladies and gentlemen, to take hands with us, and with each other, in ensuring that we will continue to uphold the historic compromise of 1990 to 1996 – the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.