Address by President Nelson Mandela at the unveiling of the mural celebrating the adoption of the new Constitution

8 May 1996

Friends and Fellow South Africans;

In the history of our country there have been many decisive turning points. It is our privilege as South Africans to be living at a time when our nation is emerging from the darkest night into the bright dawn of freedom and democracy.

We are gathered here to celebrate the progress we have made in securing that freedom for ourselves and for those who come after us.

The moving testimony of witnesses before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has reminded us of the injustices of the past and of the great debt we owe to those who suffered for freedom and justice. It has moved us all to renew our resolve that never again shall racial discrimination be allowed to blight the lives of our people.

We make this pledge with confidence, knowing that we stand on the solid foundation that South Africans have built in the two years since we voted in our millions for democracy, peace and a better life.

The interim constitution was born of a consensus that gave us a form of democracy which was qualified by the uncertainties and anxieties of a society yet to know democracy and equality.

Two years later that consensus has reached a higher level. We have found agreement that democracy should indeed mean government of the majority of citizens, as it means for the world; that opposition to government should be enshrined in the constitution; that local government should free itself of the divisions which apartheid forced on the areas in which we live.

The stability and tolerance which our interim democracy has given us has helped us find ways of turning our diversity into a source of strength and giving it constitutional protection and sustenance.

The right of each and every person to the basic necessities of life - shelter; food; water; health care and education - has, by consensus, become one of our fundamental guarantees.

It was your elected representatives who were charged with drawing up the constitution for our nation, but as democrats they have been guided by the people of this country.

The response to the Constitutional Assembly's public participation programme was beyond our wildest expectations. As they have done so often before, the people of South Africa have confounded the experts.

The people seized the opportunity to have a say in the fundamental law that will guide our land towards a better life.

From the educated and the illiterate; from our cities and our deepest rural areas; from business and labour; from adults and from children - too young to vote but not too young to feel their responsibility for their future : indeed, across every contour of our society, our representatives were made to feel the pulse of the new South African nation.

And so, guided by this unstoppable force for progress, our representatives mapped out the new democratic consensus in the draft law.

Such is the power of the new patriotism that even the difficult issues found their solutions, because all were determined to seek what was common to them, rather than stand on the smaller things that divided them.

We are able, therefore, to celebrate with unrestrained joy, the adoption today of our new constitution.

It is my very special pleasure and privilege to unveil the mural which commemorates the process which has brought us to this point. It symbolises our pledge, to work together, united as a rainbow nation in our diversity, to build a better life for all our people.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation