Today marks 25 years since the South African Constitution was adopted on May 8th 1996 before the Constitutional Court amended it on October the 11th in the same year.
Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution and a labour expert share more about the provisions and meaning of the 25-year-old Act of Parliament.
The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa is Act No 108 of Parliament of 1996. It is the highest law in the land. And therefore any law that is not in line with the Constitution, becomes invalid, unless and until it is rectified to pass Constitutional muster.
The Bill of Rights in Chapter 2 remains the cornerstone of democracy as outlined in the Constitution. It is a chapter that makes provision for the protection of human dignity, the right to life, freedom of expression, equality, privacy, freedom of religion, freedom of belief and opinion. Other freedoms include political rights, freedom of trade, occupation and profession. However, all these rights are subject to limitations.
To change most of the Bill of Rights requires a two-thirds majority vote. One example that requires a two-thirds vote is the property clause under section 25 of the Constitution. It is under section 25 where the expropriation of land and property is provided for. However, this clause is currently being amended by the Ad Hoc Committee to Amend Section 25 of the Constitution to allow the Expropriation of Land Without Compensation.
The Section 25 amendment, is currently being done through the Constitution 18th Amendment Bill. This means it is the 18th time that the South African Constitution is being amended.
As South Africa commemorates 25 years since the adoption of the Constitution, it shows how far we have come.
Lawson Naidoo is the Executive Secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution.
“As we mark the 25 anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution by Parliament, we celebrate the fact that it has provided a solid foundation for our democracy. It marked a decisive break from our Apartheid past with its vision that is based on fundamental freedoms, rights and human dignity. The Constitution has helped us to navigate the path towards the realisation of that path, but there remains a long way to go before the vision of the Constitution can become a reality for most South Africans.”
Naidoo has also touched on how resilient the Constitution has been in recent years.
“The Constitution has also been stress tested in recent years when we had a government that operated outside the bounce of the law. The Constitution withstood that test. And even though institutions like Parliament failed to exercise their Constitutional obligations to hold the government to account, the courts intervened to ensure that the rule of law was upheld.”
The Constitution also restored the basic rights of workers after 1994.
Labour Expert Mamokgethi Molopyane has described it as the cornerstone of workers, “For South African workers, particularly Black workers, it (the Constitution) has been significant in many aspects (to them). They have rights, they are recognised, they can gather, convene and organise and form a union and they have the freedom of movement without restriction. But also they have a choice to belong to the union or not. They have rights as humans before they are workers. They have rights as Black people before they are workers. So, this is some of the significance of the Constitution for South African workers. And in so doing, it enabled government to set up rules and regulations and legislation that governs labour and employment in the workplace. The Constitution has also equally laid the foundation on how workers can be treated and how workers must be recognised as (they are) contributing to the economy. We know before, the Apartheid government not only built its economy on the physical labour of Black workers but also unpaid work mostly carried out by Black women in the Bantustans then, and the provinces and the Bantustans that were sending labour into the cities to work, so it (Constitution) remains the cornerstone of workers.”
Molopyane says the Constitution remains a critical weapon for those workers whose labour rights are still being violated in a democracy.
“It (constitution) continues to be relevant for many workers who still have their rights to some extent trampled on, who are still exploited because the nature of the economy really has not changed. It continues to be an economy that continuously trying to change production processes so that the workers remained outside. So, with the help of the Constitution and many other laws that followed relating to labour, workers are able to remind industries really (to say) that we are humans, we have rights and we are also workers, we have rights. That is also made possible by the Constitution.”
Parliament is one of the three arms of the State, together with the Judiciary and Government which exists in terms of the Constitution. National Assembly Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli reflects on the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution.
“We look back with some degree of pride that its key provisions, its key institutions remain intact. In fact, although some such as the Executive and Parliament came under criticism for an example. But the intention which the Constitution intended, which is the Chapter 9 Institutions, where appropriate would intervene and where appropriate, the Constitutional Court should be able to get involved. They have done so. And it is as a result of what we anticipated would happen.”
Tsenoli says strengthening the South African Constitution is a work in progress.
“There are enormous efforts under way as we speak today, to remove, to improve, to strengthen these (Chapter 9) Institutions and the possibility for faster implementation of the key provisions of the Constitution, it’s the Bill of Rights and aspects of its preamble which calls on us essentially to be a caring state, to be mindful of the harm people were done by past policies, to undertake critical tasks to eliminate these conditions throughout our country so that people may enjoy the peace and some degree of prosperity where they live. We have a lot more to do as the Zondo Commission suggests, but nevertheless the Constitution and its key pillars, we are proud to say that they remain intact. They remain the guiding that was intended for us, those who remain in the system since its inception. Those who come in those remain an important guidepost. Every one of us should internalise its meaning and be weary of those who may suggest easy deletion of aspects of it without reason.”
Audio package below: