/ 10 December 2021

Constitution’s 25th anniversary: SA may not be perfect, but it has made great progress, says Lamola

Ronald Lamola
Ronald Lamola. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Although South Africa has made great progress since the end of apartheid and the advent of democracy in 1994, the country is still not where it wants to be.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola conceded this during a webinar to mark the 25th anniversary of the Constitution being signed into law on 10 December 1996. The event also coincided with International Human Rights Day. 

“As we mark this day, I would admit that we are certainly not where we want to be as a nation, but we can also say we are not where we were in 1994,” Lamola said, musing that should he have told his parents, who were farm workers, back then that one of their children would become minister in a democratic government, they would not have believed it. 

“Despite our challenges today, our democratic society is different from a society that was characterised by oppression, racism and human rights violations.” he said.

Noting the theme that the Constitution must be a catalyst for equality, the minister said socioeconomic rights must become a reality and conceded that the influence of the supreme document rang hollow “to survivors of gender based violence … and those who idle in poverty and unemployment”.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) chairperson, advocate Bongani Majola, said progress had been made in eradicating oppressive laws and developing new equality laws and policies to tackle discrimination, racism, xenophobia and related intolerances.

“However, the challenges that currently exist in South Africa’s society demonstrate the complexity of the journey that lies ahead of us. It is well documented that South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world.,”. 

Majola said the majority of equality-related complaints that the SAHRC received “are based on the grounds of race. Unfortunately, race therefore remains to be a serious societal issue in this country.”

Noting that Friday was also International Human Rights Day, Majola said each member of society must actively promote equality and address unfair discrimination, “to move forward towards a substantively equal n socially cohesive future”.

Former constitutional court judge and anti-apartheid activist Albie Sachs said the drafting of the Constitution had not involved “lawyers sitting in a smoke-filled room or smoke-free room, coming up with the ideas of what a beautiful Constitution would be” and nor was it an “elite product”.

“It was produced in parliament by the elected people from the nation with a mandate to bring about change. That’s why we have a Constitution with a wonderful text, a transformative text and a pro people’s text for the vulnerable for the marginalised for the excluded,” Sachs said.

He added that to achieve further advances, the same struggles “that led to the composition of the constitutional assembly, at the debates and arguments and the same kinds of united actions of diverse people with a common goal set out in the Constitution will be required to make equality real in the lives of everybody in our country”.