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Constitution's values forever etched in stone

President Cyril Ramaphosa unveiled inscriptions of the values of the Constitution at Parliament on 19 March.

Standing on the steps of the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces (NCOP)buildings, he said the values “defined the great national endeavour of the last quarter century, inspiring our people, guiding our actions and setting our destination”.

The ceremony officially closed Parliament’s year-long commemoration of the centenary birthday anniversaries of former President Nelson Mandela and MP and Struggle stalwart Albertina Sisulu.

During his State of the Nation Address last year, President Ramaphosa declared 2018 the year to commemorate these national icons. While both were honoured for their relentless fight for freedom and equality, MaSisulu, as she was fondly known, was celebrated for her contribution towards gender emancipation. Madiba – whose face and story resonate the world over – was honoured for his wisdom, his unfailing humility, his abiding compassion and integrity.

“The citizens of this country – and their representatives – who pass through these doors will be reminded of the fundamental principles upon which our society is founded.

“Each one of us will need to reflect on whether our daily actions advance or betray the cause of freedom and democracy. Are we contributing, each of us in our own way, to forging a society characterised by equality and diversity, unity and reconciliation? Are we building institutions that promote openness and participation, oversight and accountability? Are we pursuing a national programme that advances reconstruction and development?

“These are the principles for which many in our country fought and for which many lost their lives,” he said.

Constitutional values have universal appeal

Accompanied by dignitaries that included Rivonia trialist Dennis Goldberg, among others, the President addressed guests before unveiling a plaque ahead of cutting the ribbon and unveiling the inscriptions.

The steps were inscribed with several phases depicting the values of the Constitution – Freedom and Democracy; Equality and Diversity; Unity and Reconciliation; Openness and Participation; Oversight and Accountability; and Reconstruction and Development.

The President said the values that underwrite these inscriptions are reflected in the Freedom Charter, adopted in Kliptown in 1955.

He said they were the fundamental values of our democratic society, articulated in our Constitution and celebrated every day in millions of different ways.

“These values have universal appeal. They are consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and find resonance with the rest of progressive humanity.

“These principles therefore not only bind us together as a nation, but they bind us to the people of the world,” he said.

Of significance, the President said, was the fact that the principles were being inscribed on the steps of Parliament as the nation celebrated 25 years of a free and democratic South Africa.

“We should use the opportunity of this anniversary to deeply reflect on whether we have given effect to these principles. When we talk about freedom and democracy, equality and diversity, unity and reconciliation, and openness and participation, we are making reference in the main to civil and political rights,” said President Ramaphosa.

These include the right to life, equality before the law, freedom of speech and the right to vote, among other civil and political rights.

“When we talk about oversight and accountability, reconstruction and development, and co-operative governance, we are reflecting on the social and economic development of our society and the well-being of its people.

“We are reflecting on rights such as the right to healthcare, education, shelter and social welfare,” he added.

Madiba, MaSisulu’s values unmatched

The President said there are few South Africans who have embodied the values of the Constitution with the consistency and integrity of Madiba and MaSisulu.

He said the two icons were fearless champions of equality, understanding that South Africa would never be free until the rights, opportunities and material conditions of its people would no longer be determined by their race.

“They understood the other ways in which inequality was manifested.

“As an outstanding leader of both the national liberation struggle and the women’s movement, Mama Sisulu fought against the triple oppression of black women. She fought not only against national oppression but also class exploitation and gender inequality.

“These inscriptions give us confidence that – like Albertina Sisulu – the women of this country will lead the Struggle and overcome the social ills that patriarchy breeds – such as discrimination, the feminisation of poverty and gender-based violence.

“Through these inscriptions, the courage, fortitude and stoicism of Mama Albertina Sisulu will live on among the women of this country – young and old, black and white,” he said.

President Ramaphosa added that as public representatives, leaders are duty-bound to live up to these values and principles without deviation.

“When President Nelson Mandela opened the democratic Parliament on 24 May 1994, he laid the foundations of a new society that would be based on the values and principles now inscribed here.

“Thus to immortalise Nelson Mandela, Albertina Sisulu and many of their generation, we have to etch these values on our collective conscience to push the frontiers of human fulfilment and of human freedoms,” he said.

With the end of term of the fifth democratic Parliament, the President also used the opportunity to thank all political parties for having done everything within the bounds of human ability to advance and promote these values.

“Despite our different political persuasions, these values bind us together and give us our common identity as South Africans.

“Both Madiba and Mama Sisulu held a deep respect for the will of the people, believing that democracy was not merely a mechanical process, but a dynamic and vibrant engagement of people in all matters that affected their lives.”

Highs and lows of democracy

Ahead of the unveiling of the inscriptions, the National Assembly Speaker Beleka Mbete,said South Africa’s democracy has gone through many highs and lows that have helped build the institution.

Mbete said Parliament continues to affirm the democratic values espoused by Madiba and MaSisulu.

She said Parliament has, over the years, made numerous defining decisions. These include managing the smooth transition from presidents Mandela to Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe, Jacob Zuma and now President Ramaphosa and the passing of about 2 000 bills as part of building a new nation from the ashes of apartheid.

In addition, Parliament has passed budgets worth trillions of rand that have shifted human development – from increased life expectancy, improved access to education and tripling higher education enrolments, to millions benefiting from housing, access to electricity, water and literacy programmes.

“Parliament’s lows were reflected on. A lot of introspection was done, she said, mentioning parliamentary inquiries into incidents of state capture, corruption and serious maladministration.

“Parliament held public processes towards appointments to state institutions such as the NYDA, the Public Protector and the SABC Board, to mention but a few,” Mbete said.

She added that Parliament has sharpened its oversight, including playing a key role in Section 100 interventions.

The unveiling was attended by Ministers, MPs from various parties and members of the Mandela and Sisulu families. Dignitaries included ANC and DA chief whips Jackson Mthembu and John Steenhuisen, IFP leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, National Assembly Speaker Mbete, NCOP Thandi Modise and former Speaker to the National Assembly Max Sisulu, among others.

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