04 February 2012

The South African Constitution turns 15 this month

Acknowledged as one of the best written and progressive constitutions in the world, this document lays the legal foundation for the existence of the republic and its citizens. It is not a usual "rule book", but it guarantees and safeguards the rights and interests of all those within SA borders.

The fifth in the country's history, this document is the supreme law of the land which does not only protects the rights of citizens but sets out responsibilities and duties. It also defines the structure of government.

It was signed into law on 10 December 1996 and came into effect on the 4th of February 1997. It is formally entitled the "Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996." It went through numerous stages and amendments to ensure that it is inclusive, legitimate and accepted by all citizens.

The drafting process of the constitution involved many South Africans in what was deemed the biggest public participation programme ever carried out in the country's history.

The final product was an integration of ideas from ordinary citizens, civil society, political parties, traditional leaders and scholars of our land. It can thus be described as representing the collective wisdom of all South Africans.

The Constitutional Court of SA was established to ensure a sustained defence of rights of all citizens. It is the highest court of the land for constitutional matters. It has the power to rule any act of parliament null and void if it conflicts with the constitution.

SAHA runs a Freedom of Information Programme dedicated to the promotion and implementation of one of the most fundamental rights enshrined in the consitution - the right to information. Through this programme, SAHA assists individuals, activists and researchers with requests for information under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). Training and capacity building of organisations and individuals is also offered to this effect.

SAHA is in possession of material relating to the SA constitution in the following collections:

AL2992 The Jonathan Klaaren Collection

AL3078 The Multi-party Negotiation Collection 

AL3065 The Brian Currin Collection

SAHA also produced educational material which talks about the 1983 constitution.

View the material

This constitution was designed to preserve and intesify the white supremacy rule of the apartheid government. It introduced the tricameral parliament that provided separate chambers of parliament with limited powers for coloured and indian minorities. It completely excluded the 24 million black majority at the time.

SAHA also developed an exhibition kit on the Bill of Rights which is part of the South African constitution which enshrines all rights afforded to everyone within the country's borders.

Read more about the Bill of Rights exhibition kit.