Address by President Nelson Mandela at a dinner to mark the adoption of the new Constitution, University of Fort Hare

8 May 1996

Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the Constitutional Assembly;
Fellow South Africans

1. The uncertainty of the last moments of constitution-making

As we approached the point at which the deadline for the adoption of the constitution could be extended no further, and agreement still eluded our elected representatives, a number of possible alternatives faced our country.

The weary faces which our television screens transmitted to us from inside the walls of Parliament, no longer sparkling with their customary assurance, conveyed a message of uncertainty as to what today would bring.

In that situation it became necessary to be ready to meet whatever the closing hours would bring, and I therefore prepared to make several alternative speeches. I was confirmed in this by a message from ANC leaders in the

Management Committer': "Prepare two speeches" to accommodate the two possible scenarios.

I sincerely hope that I have brought along the correct speech tonight.

2. A moment for celebration

But this is unmistakably a moment for celebration. We have as a nation accomplished something of which everyone who has been involved can take great pride.

Like all historical processes its beginning was not at any one moment in time. Its accomplishment was not located in any one institution or sector of our society, either. Each of us will, as we think back tonight on that history, have our own memories.

The very question of whether to enter negotiations, and having entered them whether to continue, has tested most of us at one time or another. Few have escaped the experience of adopting a position which the collective wisdom of our colleagues or those we represent have decllared to be wrong. My own experience from prison, and later in the negotiation process, illustrates this point

What has kept us all on course is the unquenchable aspiration of our people for equality, dignity, respect and tolerance.

3. A constitution to be proud of

Some seven years back, in a letter to the then State President PW Botha, I tried, more by instinct than

understanding, to formulate the central challenge facing our country. It seemed then to be that of reconciling the black demand for majority rule in a unitary state with the insistence of whites on structural guarantees that majority rule would not mean domination of the white minority by blacks.

How far we have moved since then!

The constitution adopted today has indeed reconciled the aspiration for majority rule with the rights of each individual and community. But gone forever is that overriding and diminishing preoccupation with a balance defined in terms of colour.

Our constitutional experts tell me that a constitution is not just the balance between democratic majority rule and the

rights of minorities. it is, they say, a myriad of balances, including: the balance between national powers and those of provinces; between provincial and local government; between protecting the rights of working people and those of business; between the rights of those accused of crimes and an effective justice system; between universal equality and affirmative action; between the need to protect the institution of property and the need to meet the needs of those without property.; between diversity and unity.

These are the balances which our new constitution seeks, within an overall injunction upon us all to work together to improve the quality of life of all our people. It is up to us all to make a reality of these balances and of the vision of a better life.

In this connection, as I said earlier this morning, there are many concerns that some minority groups may still have about certain provisions of the constitution. I should emphasise again that the adoption of the constitution is not the end of the negotiations process, and we will continue talking to any concerned group to insure that any fears that they might have are addressed.

I should in this regard refer to the question of the national anthem. The constitution gives the President the power to proclaim a new anthem if and when it becomes necessary. The present anthem stands. If any change is envisaged in the future l would want to give the firm assurance that this will be done in full consultation with all the parties, taking into account both majority and minority feelings.

4. Acknowledging the constitutional workers

South Africa does indeed have cause to celebrate. At last it has a constitution which embodies the aspirations of its people. For that we are indebted to our people in their millions: to their struggles and sacrifices; their fortitude and their determination to be free.

But on this occasion it is proper that we acknowledge the essential contribution of those who worked for the Constitutional Assembly during the past two years. To have completed such a sensitive, complex and multi-faceted national process, and to do so within the appointed time, is an accomplishment which required skill and dedication. The groundbreaking success of the public participation programme depended also on your own commitment to democratic ideals.

5. Thanks to the Chairpersons

In particular tonight we should recognise the leadership of the Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly, Cyril Ramaphosa, and his Deputy Leon Wessels. With their negotiating skills, sensitivity and single-minded focus on their responsibility to the nation, they guided the assembly and its many structures through this most difficult process.

Having discharged this task, both are handing their duties as elected representatives to others. So this evening is also a kind of farewell.

My relationship with Cyril has been bound up with the very process which led through talks and negotiations to today's event. It was when I wanted to consult the leaders of the Mass Democratic Movement in 1989, before meeting then State President, De Klerk, that I first met him. He was General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers. Since then he has been a close colleague on whom I have relied.

Many a politician has uttered memorable phrases that came back to haunt them for the rest of their political life. We

wondered as Cyril assured the nation that he was one thousand per cent sure that the constitutional timetable would

be met, if he was not storing up for himself a new nickname with a sting. But he was proved right, an outcome to which his own qualities of leadership contributed.

To him and to everyone else who helped make it happen: Congratulations!

6. Conclusion

And so we may celebrate with justification. Let us do so in the spirit of our new constitution. Let us exercise our right to freedom of expression without infringing - as happened on another occasion - on the right of Fernwood`s neighbours to peace and a quiet evening!

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation