When the Congress of the people completed drafting the Freedom Charter in 1955, it gave South Africa’s future generations an architectural design an overarching model of the society and the government around which they were to mobilise and pursue the objective of the national liberation struggle. It was a design and model, which over the decades was to inspire and guide our revolutionary activity at all conceivable levels of our political, military and constitutional struggles.
The Freedom Charter, for the first time in our history, sketched out in clear terms the central objective of the national democratic struggle. It called for a South Africa which is united in its composition, democratic in its character, non-racial in its political complexion and prosperous in its socio-economic objective. Its provisions constituted a negation of any form of discrimination on the basis of sex, colour, religion or creed. It captured in vivid terms the composite will of the people.
Any form of construction, however, needs both the architect and the bricklayer. It needs both the act of conception and that of building, the act of designing and that of putting one brick upon the other. If the Congress of the People in 1955 marked the maturity of conception of the design of our future society, April 27th 1994 called upon all of us to hone our skills in the act of bricklaying.
The act of bricklaying itself began to take place within a particular context of the political balance of forces. it was a context in which not all requisite implements and ingredients necessary for rebuilding were firmly in place so as to ensure a swift and decisive reconstruction of our society. What was certain, however, was that the democratic movement led by the ANC had reached a historic breakthrough in which important elements of political power had been won. These elements provided a firm platform on which we could proceed step by step towards a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society.
When we adopted the Policy guidelines for a Democratic South Africa in May 1992, we were already fully cognisant of the context of the balance of force within which the initial act of reconstructing and developing our country was going to take place. It is with that cognisance in mind that we participated in the Multi-Party Forum which resulted in the Interim Constitution and the concept of the GNU.
This conference is about formulating the content of the final constitutional framework which should govern the functioning of our country for many years to come. We are assembled here with a purpose of giving reality to the central objective envisaged in the Freedom Charter. We are assembled here to give final structure to the constitutional framework of the country, the supreme law of the land.
As we sit down tomorrow morning to fashion this framework, there are a few important fundamental points which we should always keep in mind. In my opinion, we can only forget these points at the peril of aborting the objective of the national liberation struggle. These are fundamental points which those who oppressed our people for so long try very hard to ignore.
Firstly, the current process of constitution-formulation is an integral part, indeed one of the pivotal points, of the process of a revolutionary transformation of our society. Ours is a society whose constitutional and
socio-political ills date back to 1652, the beginning of the long history of colonisation over the indigenous people of our country.
It is a constitution which is meant to overhaul and redress socio-economic distortions and imbalances which are so deeply embedded in the fabric of society. Any attempt at correcting the ills that are so entrenched and have existed for so long cannot be done through artificial plastic surgery. It needs major surgery of society and state.
Secondly, the elections of April 27, 1994 proved that the policy and the programme of the African National Congress constitute the composite will of the majority of the people. The ANC is seen by the majority as the custodian and guardian best suited to advance and defend the aspirations of the disadvantaged. These elections gave the ANC resounding mandate and an honourable responsibility to continue to champion the cause of their struggles and to pursue the central objective set out in the Freedom Charter.
Comrades, our mandate enjoins us to pursue our objective without fear and without apology. The principle of majority rule, which is a central element in any democracy, is one of the most important instruments which we have in our plan to introduce fundamental transformations in our country. The Constituent Assembly is a forum which best reflects this principle. It is for that reason that we believe that any true democrat should uphold the supremacy of the Constituent Assembly is forging a final constitutional framework.
Thirdly, we should not lose sight of the fact the Constituent Assembly is charged with the task of reviewing the entire Interim Constitution and fashioning a new and final constitution for the country. It is not charged with the task of mere tinkering with the Interim Constitution. That is not is mandate.
It would be good if those who claim to speak on behalf of the people could always remember that the Interim Constitution was drawn by a Multi-party Forum whose mandate was not draw on from the legitimising process of a democratic contest. It was a forum that was not elected and therefore could not claim the mandate of a democratic process.
At the same time, we recognise the fact that democratic forces led by the ANC were part of the Multi-Party Forum and succeeded in making their own imprint in the constitutional product of that forum.
Therefore there sure are many elements in the present constitution which are representative of and consistent with fundamental positions we have held for longer or shorter periods.
Fourthly, the CA seeks to empower and to give the South African people the democratic opportunity to draw up their own basic framework which will regulate their exercise of people’s power. South Africans themselves must, on their own, take their destiny in their own hands by constructing a constitutional settlement along the guidelines charted by themselves.
Certainly our people have not hollered at the world outside to come and tell them what kind of a constitutional order is best suited for their country. When they came out to vote in their millions in April 1994, they were placing their trust in the men, the women and the youth who today sit in the CA.
All of us who respect the principle of democracy should uphold the right of the people to exercise this right for which they have struggled and sacrificed for more than three centuries.
The Multi-Party Forum, the Interim Constitution and the GNU all have one common characteristic: they were contrived elements of transition necessary to end the system of white minority domination and to facilitate the transfer of important elements of political power from the hands of the oppressor white minority regime to those of the democratic majority. At no stage were these elements of transition conceived as elements of permanence, as a perennial feature of South African society.
The exercise of multi-party democracy entails the existence of different political parties who should be free to represent different political persuasions, to propagate varied ideological positions and pursue different socio-economic programmes. Multi-Party democracy should ensure this freedom of political activity on the part of the representative political parties of the people, and the certainty of regular elections.
The concept of the GNU in the Interim Constitution was viewed as necessary in order to guarantee a smooth political transition and to lay the foundation for national reconciliation and nation building. Indeed, this concept has served its purpose well. Such a concept, however, if it allowed to be a permanent feature of the constitution, shall act as a fetter on the essence of multi-party democracy.
The idea of inter-political party cooperation on a number of issues, whether in the form of coalitions or alliances, is a practice recognised by all mature democracies in the world. The point, however, is that in a full-blown multi-party democracy such inter-party cooperation should not be made a compulsory obligation.
Certainly, the ANC is not opposed to the idea of inter-party cooperation. Indeed, we might deem it worthwhile at different levels of governance especially in a country with deep-seated divisions, such as our own.
But what we do not want to perpetuate is a forced coalition which denies the majority political constituency the right to freely decide how to pursue the interest of the democratic majority. Nothing should deny the majority the right to decide on the nature of cooperation it deems fit. Nothing should deny it the right to decide with which other political constituency or constituencies it should enter into a coalition.
Surely, the democratic majority of our country does not deserve to govern under a tutelage of a perpetual enforced constitutional arrangement. We are ready and capable of governing.
Apart from our need to defend the concept of multi-party democracy and the fact that we are ready and capable of governing, we have supported the need for a number of guiding principles and independent institutions. These principles and institutions are additional mechanisms designed to guarantee a fair application of democracy with no danger of party-political abuse.
For example, the Bill of Rights shall be binding on all organs of state. We have agreed on a number of binding principles on the new constitution. We have agreed on the need for an independent and impartial Public Service Commission, a Human Rights Commission, a Reserve Bank, an Auditor-General and a Public Protector.
The ANC is committed to a constitutional framework which balances constitutional powers between the national, provincial and local government in such a way that the unity and integrity of the state is not impaired. It should be a constitutional framework which affords the democratically elected centre the opportunity to intervene, where-ever necessary, in the distribution of resources with the aim of addressing uneven socio-economic imbalances engendered by the colonial and Apartheid rule as well as oversees the maintenance of national standards of governance, empowerment and delivery of resources.
The task of maintaining and defending the unity and the integrity of the state should be done with appreciation and sensitivity to the rich diversity of our demography, ethnicity, language, culture and environment. This diversity should be defended and, where-ever desirable, it should be promoted. At the same time this diversity should be balanced and harmonised with the need to promote reconciliation, to build national unity, to maintain stability and peace.
National cohesiveness will have to be forged and regional diversity will have to be safeguarded in the real world of vast socio-economic disparities. Even the much-needed economic growth has got no magical in-built mechanism which can, on its own, ensure the eradication of socio-economic disparities.
If we fail to secure an appropriate constitutional framework, with time, conflicts arising from our socio-economic reality might lead to provincial and ethnic conflict which, in turn can lead to the balkanisation of the country. The demon of racialism and ethnicity which Prixley KaSeme cautioned against might yet again rear its head and undermine the hardwon unity of our people.
The objective of unleashing the full potential of our economic and human resources is inextricable linked to a healthy constitutional, moral and political order. The constitution of our country must become the highest embodiment of its political, moral and constitutional value-system.
The constitution should not only safeguard civic, political, cultural or religious rights. The morality of the constitution is also tested by its endeavour to safeguard economic rights of its citizens. It should address itself to such individual rights as the right to a fair wage, the right to collective bargaining, the right to medical care and the right to a clean environment.
Constitutional transformation of our society will only have meaning if it seeks to address the plight of the triple oppression suffered by women. Our constitution should promote and defend gender equality at all levels of society.
The policy of the ANC has always sought to find an innovative and flexible approach in reconciling the task of democratic organs of civil society and traditional structures in rural areas. The real question is not a choice between traditional and democratic structures. The real challenge is to find the best way in which both components can make the best contribution to community involvement, delivery of services, social stability, peace, reconstruction and development.
We are meeting here this weekend not to draft a constitution, but to work out a framework around the critical issues that are on our agenda.
That framework, together with other policy positions which our movement elaborated and agreed upon in the past, will serve as the mandate of our delegates to the Constitutional Assembly.
As we begin our work, it is necessary that we bear in mind two critical issues with regard to the constitution making process.
One of these is that the new constitution will have to be negotiated. Our delegates to the CA will be our negotiators. It will therefore be necessary that we allow them sufficient flexibility, in fact to negotiate with the other parties represented in the Constitutional Assembly, within the framework which this conference will adopt.
Correctly, we have also called on the masses of our people as a whole themselves to make their own independent input into the constitution-making process.
It is critical that our negotiators should listen carefully to this mass voice and take the views of the people on board as they present specific constitutional proposals.
This serves to emphasise the point that we allow sufficient space to our delegates to exercise the flexibility we have spoken of, knowing that they enjoy our full trust and confidence.
Throughout the process of negotiations, our delegates will, of course, maintain continuous contact with the constitutional structures of the alliance and the broad democratic movement, to ensure that at all times we maintain a correct and coherent approach, acting as a united force.
The second point we wish to make in this context is that we are committed to producing a constitution which enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of our people.
That is why we have sought to ensure that the constitution making process is as inclusive as possible in terms of the participation of the people themselves as well as their genuine representatives.
This is the spirit that should guide our negotiators who will, nevertheless, remain firm on all matters of principle as they negotiate for a constitution expressive of the fundamental perspective of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa.
The point about the need to ensure popular participation in constitution making emphasises once more the need for us to ensure that all structures of our movement, from the branches upwards, are strong and in dynamic contact with the people.
We must therefore continue to attend to the question of building and strengthening our structures with the greatest vigour, so that we can discharge our historic responsibilities to our country and people, recognising the fact that without our movement, acting as a strong and united force, it will be impossible to achieve the fundamental transformation of our society which the people demand and expect.
It surely is not necessary for us to draw the delegates’ attention to the importance of this issue to the victory we have achieve in the forthcoming local government elections.
On behalf of the President and the National Executive Committee, I wish the conference success.