About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Great Expectations

On May 8 1996, when the first full draft of the constitution had been approved by the Constitutional Assembly, chair-person Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the chamber. What follows is an extract from his speech.

"People will ask: 'What can be said about this constitution?'

"This constitution, with its bill of rights, is the mirror of South African society. It reflects both the history from which we have emerged, and the values we now cherish-human dignity, equality and freedom.

"It proclaims to the world that we are a society committed to democracy, to the rule of law and the protection of human rights. It proclaims to all South Africans, the landless, the homeless, the women, the workers and the children of this country, that their basic needs and aspirations matter enough to be included in the country's constitution.

"It celebrates the richness of the diversity of cultures, religions and beliefs of South Africans, and affirms that all belong as equals in our one nation. It commits the state to respecting, protecting, promoting and to fulfilling the rights in the bill of rights and acknowledges that it is not enough for the government simply to refrain from violating people's rights; it is also necessary for the government to take positive measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment of human rights by all South Africans. Through this constitution we hope to transform our society from one based on injustice and strife to one based on justice and peace.

"This constitution also creates a framework for sound and effective government. Co-operation, accountability, responsiveness and openness are entrenched as principles of government at all levels. To deepen the culture of democracy and human rights, the constitution establishes a number of important institutions [which] are charged with the vital task of ensuring that the government remains committed to the values of this constitution.

"This constitution is the subject of a rather fortunate paradox. It is no one's constitution and yet it is everyone's constitution. Just as no one party sees its constitutional proposals reproduced in their entirety, so no one person can claim exclusive ownership of this constitution. It belongs to everyone in the Constitutional Assembly and it is a reflection of our collective will for a new, united and democratic nation. This constitution belongs to South Africans.

"It is the product of negotiation and compromise. Yet the central tenets of a democratic, just and equitable society remain uncompromised, because freedom is non-negotiable. The achievements of the Constitutional Assembly are remarkable. The provisions of this constitution are sound. The expectations of our nation are great."

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.