Democratic South Africa has come a long in ensuring that citizens enjoy their rights as enshrined in the Constitution, says President Jacob Zuma.
“Much work has been done since 1994 to ensure the enjoyment of these rights. Concrete steps have been taken since 1994 to remove the laws upon which institutionalised racism and discrimination were based,” the President said on Saturday at an event held to mark the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s Constitution.
The Constitution was signed into law on 10 December 1996 by the late former President Nelson Mandela in Sharpeville, Gauteng. The signing of the Constitution in Sharpeville was a commemorative gesture in remembrance of the people who died during a peaceful demonstration against the pass laws of apartheid South Africa in March 1960.
“The Constitution is the birth certificate of the democratic South Africa. It provides the legal foundation for the existence of democratic South Africa. It commits us, individually and collectively, to build a nation based on the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom through constitutionalism and the rule of law,” said the President.
The President described the Constitution’s Bill of Rights as a fundamental feature that affirms the country’s democratic values of human dignity and freedom. This includes the freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
He told those gathered in a large marquee at the venue that as much as they have rights, they too must respect the rights of others.
The socio-economic rights enjoyed by every South African today include the right to education, healthcare and water and electricity, among others.
“During the first 10 years of democracy alone, 789 laws aimed at reconfiguring South African society were approved by Parliament,” said the President.
Government also enacted laws that promoted employment equity, Broad Based Economic Empowerment and the prevention of unfair discrimination. The laws were implemented to promote economic transformation.
“The dismantling of the legal framework of apartheid and the transformation of many State institutions has led to visible improvement of the socio-economic conditions of millions of people,” President Zuma said.
Progress made by South Africa includes the redistribution of nearly eight million hectares of agricultural land to previously disadvantaged people. Land restitution and reform is provided for in Section 25 of the Constitution.
In addition, 3.7 million houses have been built since 1994, while electricity provision has moved from 10 million in 2007 to 15.4 million connections.
On the education front, democratic South Africa has nearly doubled the number of students in higher education institutions to close to one million.
Sound legal framework
President Zuma highlighted the importance of the separation of powers, as contained in the Constitution.
He said a key feature of the Constitution is its well-developed system of checks and balances. These include judicial review, an independent judiciary, legislative oversight over the executive and the establishment of Chapter 9 institutions.
He urged the judiciary to jealously guard its independence, impartiality, dignity, accessibility and effectiveness, while also calling on other arms of the State to support the judiciary.
“It is important to note that the three arms of the State continue to work together in a spirit of cooperation. Where problems arise, these are discussed and resolved.”
President Zuma said when the three arms (executive, legislature and judiciary) function effectively and smoothly, the people of the country benefit.
President Zuma paid tribute to the role that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa – who was present at the celebrations — played when the Constitution was signed.
Prior to his main address, President Zuma signed a pledge and laid a wreath at the Sharpeville Memorial Site.
President Jacob Zuma has called on all South Africans to celebrate 20 years of the signing of the Constitution into the supreme law of the Republic, on Saturday.
The President was taking calls from listeners on Thursday evening during a one-hour phone-in programme linked to community radio stations across the country.
The programme was convened by the Government Communication and Information System’s (GCIS) radio unit.
Speaking on the Constitution, President Zuma said there was a lot to celebrate as people were discriminated on the basis of their gender and colour before the country had a democratic Constitution.
“We now have a Constitution that guarantees the rights… we must celebrate because we have made some progress. The country is working towards achieving all rights. It is important that we celebrate,” he said.
The President called on all to take responsibility of their rights.
He also called on government leaders, especially ward councillors, to handle people with care and listen to their cry in order to work together with communities and improve service delivery.
“When people are complaining, listen to them. Don’t bulldoze them, because you are making them more bitter.
“We must be innovative about how we can make our lives better. Those who are put in leadership by government must not be arrogant, they must not fail to service the people because they are making a bad situation even worse.
“They must be humble and have respect because they are dealing with the people.”
He urged leaders not to drive people to losing hope. “Those who are in authority must handle people with care… so that people, even when in pain, can have hope that tomorrow will be better.”
Speaking on the issue of racism, the President said South Africa will win and become a non-racial, non-sexist nation, but it will take time because racism was institutionalised before the dawn of democracy.
He said racism is a matter that the country needs to work on politically, religiously, socially and otherwise, and condemn those who still believe in racism.
The young generations, the President said, do not have much racism problems because they school and socialise together, but the problem is with the older generations.
“If they are younger and still believe in racism, it means the problem is in their homes. It is a matter that we need to deal with… if you are racist you are wrong, you are backward, and you need to be developed.”
He said it is important to celebrate our rights but not forget the responsibility that comes with them.
“Women did not have rights, children did not have rights, and some people did not have rights because of the colour of their skin.
“The fact that we have not yet managed to meet all our rights is a problem caused by our history, but we must celebrate the progress that we are making. We are celebrating freedom, although freedom is not yet complete because we have political freedom… but economic freedom and rights are not there.
“We still have a challenge that we need to deal with. We encourage the country to work hard to ensure that all of us have all the rights. The country is working towards achieving all the rights, and that is why we are celebrating the constitution.
“We should remind ourselves where we come from, where we are and what we need to do.”
National Development Plan
Speaking about the National Development Plan (NDP), the President said one of the key goals that the country aims to achieve through the NDP was empowering citizens with education so that they do not only become job seekers but are able to create jobs, and once that happens the country’s economy will grow.
He said the ultimate goal is to reduce the number of citizens who depend on social grants as their source of income and turn them into economic participants who contribute to the growth of the country and become fully independent.
“We are looking forward to a time where people will stop asking what government is going to give them, but rather what their contributions are to the government.
“The NDP is a developmental plan that, once completed, will round up everything… whether you are in rural areas, you will be developed,” said the President.
He said part of the plan is to ensure that people who live in rural areas do not have to go to the cities to access quality services from healthcare centres, schools and other services provided by government. These services should be accessible in the very rural areas they live in.
He also said the fact that the majority of citizens were deprived of education in the past has led to many of them being unemployable when opportunities were created for black people, due to illiteracy and age.
Monitoring government’s work
Responding to a caller’s question regarding the monitoring of service delivery in communities and local government level, President Zuma said he established the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) so that government programmes can be monitored and progress checked.
He also said he uses the Siyahlola Presidential Monitoring Programme to interact directly with communities so that government leaders can listen to problems faced by citizens in their communities.
The President said the DPME needs to grow bigger and stronger so that it can have a huge impact in executing its mandate.
“In my thinking, we need to have DPME offices in all provinces and municipalities, so that it can monitor and evaluate programmes on a daily basis and report back to the Presidency… Monitoring is one of the most important programmes of government.”
The President said this could help to discover many things that go wrong and unnoticed in government.
Courtesy of SAnews.gov.za