”Looking back, to look forward” after 21 years of Constitution Hill

December 10 2017 marks the 21st anniversary of our nation’s Constitution. In commemoration of this milestone, the Constitution Hill Precinct and key partners will be hosting a series of events leading up to and including the anniversary date. These events will embody a reflection of how far we have come as a nation in realising the aspirations of our democracy through our nation’s highest law; and more importantly, what remains to be done towards attainment of fuller socio-economic emancipation for all South Africans.

Two years after the first democratic election (1994), the President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, signed the final draft of the Constitution into law at Sharpeville, Vereeniging, on 10 December 1996. The date on which the Constitution was signed marked International Human Rights Day. Furthermore, the location where the Constitution was signed was significant and symbolic of the betrayal and brutality of past governments.

Some 21 years after the signing, Constitution Hill is a significant site for reflection. Once a former prison and military fort, the site bears testament to South Africa’s turbulent and inhumane past and, today, is home to the country’s Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land and a guardian of the Constitution.

Some landmark rulings of the Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court has over the two decades been the protector of our country’s democracy with several significant landmark rulings. Some of these include, the 2002 case between Minister of Health and Others versus the Treatment Action Campaign and Others. This case is often referred to as “the judgment that saved a million lives”. In this historic judgment, the court ordered the government to make nevirapine, or a suitable substitute, available at public clinics to pregnant mothers who sought it.

Consequently, South Africa lay claim to the largest publicly-provided Aids treatment programme in the world. This is undoubtedly the most significant material consequence of the decision.

Another landmark ruling progressing our nation’s democratic aspirations is that of the EFF v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others and DA v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others (2016). This judgment considered whether the power of the Public Protector to “take appropriate remedial action” and whether her finding that President Jacob Zuma was required to pay back a reasonable portion of the money spent installing non-security upgrades at his private residence in his personal capacity is binding. The Constitutional Court held that the power of the Public Protector to take appropriate remedial action has legal effect and is binding. In times when impunity seems prevalent in our society, this ruling was a watershed moment for our democracy, as it reminded us of the Court’s crucial role as a bulwark against any conduct that falls short of the Constitution.

The Constitutional Court has made other judgments that have had a fundamental impact on people’s lives and a profound impact on South African law, thereby reinforcing the Constitutional principles of equality, dignity and freedom. The ruling on the abolition of the death penalty; the rulings on gender equality, on education and language, are but some examples.

The upcoming events at the precinct in commemoration of the 21st anniversary will ensure a reflection on these gigantic strides toward a mature democracy in our nation, the benefit of which are witnessed by all of our nation’s citizens. The dialogue therein will also consider a sober reflection of what key actions are still needed by our nation towards a positive trajectory in the long walk to full emancipation of our people.

Key anniversary events at ConHill

  • On 8 December 2017, Constitution Hill, in partnership with the National Heritage Council and the Sandi Zinnia Baai Foundation, will be hosting a book launch of Black Sacrifice: The Sinking of the SS Mendi, an account of an often-forgotten tragedy of human rights violations and loss of life of over 600 black South African soldiers.
  • On 9 December 2017, the precinct will partner with the Thuli Madonsela Foundation in a democracy festival where key issues in affecting our democracy will be discussed, including topics such as what constitutes an ideal President for a developmental democratic state such as ours (for more information, email: info@thumafoundation.org).
  • The main event of the anniversary celebrations at the precinct will be on 10 December. A lekgotla will be held with current and former Justices, as well as other civil society representatives, under the theme, Looking back, to look forward: the next 21 years of the Constitution. Once again high on the agenda will be a reflection on the gains of our Constitution and more importantly, how we as a society should define the next 21 years of it.
  • During this event, a key South African icon will be honoured. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is an example of a South African who has played his role in securing our world-renowned Constitution. In honour of Tutu, as one of the architects of our constitutional democracy, a sculpture appropriately named The Arch, made up of 14 arches representing each chapter of the Constitution and each line of the Constitution’s Preamble, will be unveiled outside the Constitutional Court (email: xlwando@gmail.com).

For more information, please contact:

Jeanny Morulane | GM: Marketing & Communications | jeanny@conhill.org.za | 011 381 3150 | constitutionhill.org.za

Phetsile Nxumalo | Marketing Co-ordinator | phetsile@conhill.org.za | 011 381 3128 | constitutionhill.org.za

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