Address by Nelson Mandela at dinner to celebrate the official opening of Constitutional Court Building, Johannesburg

19 March 2004

Our Host the Executive Mayor of Johannesburg
Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson
Honourable Justices
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour to be here with you tonight, amongst such august and luminary figures from a profession in which I once dabbled without great distinction.

Thank you for the opportunity to share in the opening of this building complex, so important both in functional and symbolic terms.

It is proper that our Constitutional Court should now find a permanent home befitting its place and role within the constitutional architecture of our young democracy. We are celebrating ten years of democracy and the permanent accommodation of the Court is symbolic of the consolidation of our democracy.

Ten years represent but a fraction of a wink in human history and we should always retain a sober modesty when we celebrate. We do, however, have enough cause to feel satisfied and proud about what we have achieved in this decade by way of laying solid foundations for our democratic order.

We have done that, moreover, coming from centuries of colonialism and decades of apartheid rule. As South Africans we have worked hard and worked in unity to overcome our past and to transform our society into one in which all people enjoy that greatest of protections, namely of their dignity. We have worked hard to make a living reality out of the aspirational values of our Constitution – those of human dignity, equality, human rights and freedom, non-racialism and non-sexism.

We have done that by, amongst other things, consolidating through practice and advocacy our commitment to the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.

And in all of that our Constitutional Court played a central role. It has made all of us proud to be South Africans, citizens in a constitutional democracy that enjoys the admiration and respect of democrats and freedom-loving people all over the world.

I always recall how one of the first judgements in the Constitutional Court was around a matter in which I was involved as President of the country, and the President of the Constitutional Court, regardless of the fact that he once was my lawyer, ruled against me. It was then clear to me that South Africa was in safe hands with that Court standing and operating at the apex of our democracy.

As a nation we have risen from the destructiveness and divisions of our past. In our transition we have not destroyed and broken down wantonly. We have in many cases taken the old forms and structures and imbued that with new values of humaneness and human solidarity.

These buildings are powerful testimony to that. It is fitting that the Old Fort Prison Complex, once a place of confinement and degradation, now be transformed to house the organ that stands at that apex of our democracy.

I congratulate all who were involved in bringing this about. And I join all of you, I am sure, in wishing our democracy and our constitutional order many decades and centuries of health, in service of the people of our country.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation