The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and all laws passed by parliament must be in line with the Constitution, in our constitutional democracy.
The constitution arose out of many hours and days of hard work by men and women who were members of the Constitution Drafting Committee of the then Constitutional Assembly, which was capably led by Deputy President Ramaphosa.
In much the same way that the Freedom Charter was drafted, the Constitution drafting process touched thousands of people across the length and breadth of South Africa, who were called upon to make their voices heard.
After two years of public consultation and much debate, the new Constitution was finally adopted on 08 May 1996 by an overwhelming 87 percent of the members of the Constitutional Assembly.
Following adoption, the text was referred to the Constitutional Court for certification, which was done on 04 December 1996.
President Mandela signed the Constitution into law on 10 December 1996. The Deputy President joined Madiba here in Sharpeville on the day for the signing ceremony.
Madiba chose Sharpeville as the venue to symbolise the beginning of a new era. The people of Sharpeville suffered one of the most brutal atrocities of the apartheid era, when people were mercilessly killed in March 1960.
Today is also International Human Rights Day, commemorating the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This year’s International Human Rights Day theme is “Stand up for someone’s rights today!”
Namhlanje, sigubha iminyaka engamashumi amabili selokhu uMongameli Nelson Mandela asayinda khona umthethosisekelo omusha wezwe lakithi.
Lomthethosisekelo waqeda inqubo yobandlulo, waletha uhulumeni wentando yeningi.
Abantu baseningizimu Afrika bazizwa bevikelekile kakhulu ngenxa yalomthethosisekelo, ngoba uvikela amalungelo abo.
The Constitution defines the structure of government. It outlines the division of South Africa into nine provinces, and establishes the structure of national, provincial and local spheres of government and the principles that govern the interaction between the spheres.
Importantly, our Constitution contains an important democratic principle called the separation of powers. That means that the power of the state is divided between three different but interdependent components or arms, namely the executive (Cabinet), the legislature (Parliament) and a single independent judiciary (Courts of law).
A key feature of the Constitution is a well-developed system of checks and balances. These include judicial review, the independent judiciary, legislative oversight over the executive and the establishment of Chapter 9 institutions, which are mandated to promote and protect various human rights.
Our courts are trusted final arbiters in disputes in society.
To maintain this role, our judiciary needs to jealously guard its independence, impartiality, dignity, accessibility and effectiveness. Other arms of the state must support the judiciary to maintain this role.
Access to justice continues to improve in the country.
Last month a new High Court was opened in Limpopo, thus ending the need for the people of Limpopo to travel to Gauteng to access high court services.
Government continues to improve access to justice through services such as the increase in legal aid funding and supporting courts such as maintenance courts and small claims courts to help the vulnerable and poor access justice.
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.
An important meeting took place last year at the Union Buildings to discuss problems in the working relations between the Executive and the Judiciary, for the first time ever in our democracy.
This was a very important signal that the system works, and that mechanisms exist to iron out any difficulties. There is ongoing work to implement the decisions of that meeting, led by Deputy President Ramaphosa.
The President hosted another meeting between the Judiciary, parliament and the Executive in Cape Town last year, to discuss working relations.
When the three arms function effectively and smoothly, the people benefit.
Parliament also continues to function effectively, with members of parliament conducting their oversight work over the government.
They ensure that government departments do what they are supposed to do in providing services to the people, and also that budgets are spent in line with the work that needs to be done.
The chapter 9 institutions include the Office of the Public Protector, Office of the Auditor-General, South African Human Rights Commission, Independent Electoral Commission, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural Religious and Linguistic Communities and the Commission on Gender Equality.
The institutions are accountable to the National Assembly and have to report on their activities and the performance of their functions to the Assembly at least once a year.
We urge members of the public to use the Chapter 9 institutions to highlight any possible violations of their rights as stated in the Constitution.
We also urge all arms of the state to support the Chapter 9 institutions in their work.
The checks and balances also include the Public Service Commission, which must be independent and impartial in the interest of the maintenance of effective and efficient public administration and a high standard of professional ethics in the public service.
The Bill of Rights remains one of the fundamental features of our Constitution, affirming the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
One of its key features are the rights of assembly and association as well as the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media, which key cornerstones of our democracy.
The Bill of Rights also contains socio-economic rights, including rights to education, healthcare, social security or water and electricity.
Much work has been done since 1994 to ensure the enjoyment of these rights to the people.
Concrete steps have been taken since 1994, to remove the laws upon which institutionalised racial discrimination was based.
During the first ten years of democracy alone, seven hundred and eighty nine laws or amendments aimed at reconfiguring South African society were approved by Parliament.
Government further introduced a new regulatory environment to promote black economic advancement and affirmative action, in order to reverse the legacy of racial discrimination in the workplace and the economy.
Laws promoting, amongst other, employment equity, broad-based black economic empowerment and the prevention of unfair discrimination were enacted 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.
On food security, land reform and agrarian reform for instance, Government has distributed nearly eight million hectares of agricultural land to previously disadvantaged individuals against a targeted 24 million hectares.
The implementation of the land reform programme continues, as part of ensuring redress and true reconciliation and healing.
Land restitution and reform is provided for in Section 25 of the Constitution. More efforts are being put into speeding up the land reform programme.
Households are being supported to participate in subsistence farming in rural areas, while the development of agricultural parks is designed to promote a thriving agricultural economy.
Government continues to restore dignity through the provision of housing and quality basic services to our people. Over 3.7 million houses have been built since 1994. A lot more must still be done to upgrade informal settlements.
Government continues to build dams and other infrastructure, to extend water supply and sanitation to many families.
The rollout of electricity has increased in terms of the number of households. We have moved from 10 million in 2007 to 15.4 million with access to electricity, which is 91 percent.
Our Constitution enjoins us to educate our children and youth to become future leaders and proficient citizens.
That is why Government has expanded access and improved the quality of education. There has been a steady increase in the overall matric pass rate to reach 71 per cent in 2015. We want to see more learners achieving bachelor passes in the year 2016.
Since 1994 we have almost doubled the number of students in Higher Education Institutions to close to a million students.
Enrolments at Training and Vocational Education and Training Colleges stood at more than seven hundred thousand in 2014. In 1994 the figure was one hundred and fifty thousand. The doors of learning are being opened indeed.
Advances have been made towards building a healthy nation. South Africans now live longer with the average age being 62 years in 2014.
More importantly, we have made dramatic inroads in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Government still needs to reach children under the age of one and those living in remote areas and farms.
Work continues to make South Africa safer for all.
Police work round the clock to fight crime.
We thank members of the community who cooperate with the police and report crime. We also extend our gratitude to members of the public who do not engage in unacceptable behaviour such as buying stolen goods, which perpetuates crime.
The Constitution says we must heal the divisions of the past. In this regard, we all need to play our part in building a non-racial society. The recent reported displays of racism in the country indicate that more work must still be done to fight racism.
However, we should also acknowledge that a lot of progress has been made in promoting unity in our country. We will not allow a few racists to win the day and take us backwards.
Further work is being done to promote a society free of all forms of discrimination.
Government is leading the process through finalising the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance for implementation, working with key stakeholders.
With regards to promoting gender equality, we are pleased that the Constitution has enabled us to advance more women in our society, with 42.5 per cent of women having been elected into legislative bodies in 2014.
Work must continue steadily to achieve 50 percent, in recognition of the role women play in society and our own Constitution which enshrines non-sexism.
Today marks the end of the campaign of 16 days of activism of no violence against women. In this regard, we urge all of you to continue to be vigilant and promote safer homes, communities and workplaces for women, every day of the year. Women have a right to safety and security.
Fellow South Africans,
Our Constitution is our precious heritage.
It has been an excellent guide in the journey of building a new national democratic society in the past 20 years of its existence.
Let us stand together as a united, sovereign, democratic state, and strengthen our efforts of building a nation free from poverty, inequality and unemployment, together.
It is my privilege and honour, on behalf of all arms of the state, to congratulate South Africans on this 20 year milestone!
Long live the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa!
I thank you.
Issued by The Presidency