This past week President Ramaphosa gave the opening address at The National Conference on the Constitution. The words of his written speech provide a distilled clarity of our Constitutional democracy. I encourage you to read his address in full.
What baffled me was how the event was repeatedly being reported through the media. The impression I got was that the conference had gathered to evaluate the Constitution to see how it may have failed us or not. This was the exact opposite question we need to be asking. It is not how the Constitution may have failed us, but how we have failed the Constitution. Here is an example of the repeated media coverage:
President Cyril Ramaphosa believes that, 26 years since the Constitution came into effect, it is time to reflect on its efficiency and whether it has “served the aspirations of our people”.
If you have read the President’s speech you will know that these words do not exist in the written text. The written speech is clear that we are to account for our honouring of the Constitution or lack thereof and not the other way round. Was this a case of media mischief?
In watching the recording of the President’s speech he deviated from his written speech on a few occasions. And the words above quote him correctly. They are from his off the cuff introductory remarks. Was he playing to another audience or were these words simply spoken unthinkingly? I do not know but I know that it is very unfortunate that he said what he said and that this was the only angle picked up by the media. The result is not only at odds with his speech but at odds with what we need to hear as a people of this country, namely, the truth.
We dare not use the Constitution as a scapegoat for our failings. To do so is to crucify the innocent and allow the guilty go free. This may bring brief relief to the ruling party but it will not bring life to the nation.
Then, after The National Conference on the Constitution, the ANC Chief Whip, Pemmy Majodina is reported to have said: “This is the 25th anniversary of the Constitution, and that Constitution needs to be amended. Remember, this was a transitional Constitution, to accommodate everyone.” With these words Majodina invites us to remember something that does not exist. We do not have a transitional Constitution. We have a Constitution finish and klaar.
Note how the conversation has begun to slip down the slippery slope. We have moved from a question to an answer both based on falsehoods and blame. The truth is that this Chief Whip is more concerned about the 2024 elections than Constitutional integrity. If only she knew that the best electoral strategy for her party (and every party) in 2024 is to tell the truth of how they have betrayed the Constitution. This confession may set people free to begin to trust them again.
Now here is the beautiful and revolutionary preamble to our Constitution. It is remarkably non-nationalistic. It is Gospel in its truth-telling, desire for healing and call for justice. I invite you to read it today as a prayer:
We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to—
Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
Lay 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;
Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
May God protect our people.
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso. God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa. Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika.