Zuma wants citizens to 'take heed' of Constitution

President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday called on South Africans to learn more about the Constitution amid growing allegations of the government wanting to make drastic changes to the cornerstone of the country’s democracy.

“On Human Rights Day we encourage our people to take heed of this supreme law, our Constitution,” Zuma told a small group of supporters inside Kliptown hall, with several hundred gathered outside to watch him on a big screen.

“We need to take time to teach ourselves our Constitution, so we can appreciate our rights,” he continued.

Zuma’s comments are pertinent in the wake of intense speculation of the ANC’s plans to amend the Constitution in the near future.

Recently released draft ANC policy documents said “elements” of the Constitution could be reviewed because they “may be an impediment to social and economic transformation”.

In February, Zuma controversially called for the powers of the Constitutional Court to be reviewed.

Analysts described Zuma’s touted moves as “not in line” with South Africa’s democratic order.

The president was recently quoted in the City Press as saying any planned changes to the Constitution should be “likened to a car service.

The current Constitution was adopted in 1996 after intense negotiations in South Africa’s first democratically elected Parliament in 1994.

It replaced the provisional Constitution of 1993, which intended to pave the way for the adoption of a permanent Constitution.

Know your rights
Zuma said citizens should not only familiarise themselves with the Constitution, but actively practice what is enshrined in the document.

“If we understand our rights and practice them properly, we won’t infringe on rights of others. We wouldn’t burn and destroy other people’s property when we are angry,” Zuma said.

The crowd at Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown burst out in cheers when Zuma walked around the square.

Security was tight around him with orange jacketed marshals forming a human chain around him and his bodyguards pushing photographers away.

Zuma was accompanied by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, Deputy Basic Education Minister Enver Surty and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.

During festivities, the department of justice and constitutional development handed out copies of the Constitution along with parcels filled with information on the work of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and departments of labour and home affairs.

‘Stop talking’
There was a generally relaxed mood among those gathered, but some felt Zuma and the South African government “should stop talking”.

“They come here to talk nicely and leave. They don’t speak to us properly and don’t know what’s going on here or how our basic rights are being violated without toilets or water.
We are living like baboons,” Lizzy Sithole, who attended the rally, told the Mail & Guardian.

A lone protester greeted the morning crowd with a poster at the entrance to the square asking the ANC about its conscience.

“ANC where is your conscience? Sharpeville 21 March 1960,” the placard read.

This was in relation to protests in the Vaal, where residents were complaining that the Human Rights Day was being hijacked from them.

They wanted the event to be celebrated in Sharpeville.

At the same time, 70 people were arrested in Sharpeville during the protest.

According to police, protesters were arrested for allegedly robbing stores in Sharpeville during the protest, which began on Tuesday.

Human Rights Day was celebrated in Kliptown, Soweto where the Freedom Charter was developed and adopted in 1955.

The day was previously known as Sharpeville Day to commemorate the shooting of 69 black protesters by the police in 1960.—additional reporting by Sapa

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend. Read more from Nickolaus Bauer

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