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South Africa’s Constitution Turns 10 Today

Ten years ago today, South Africa’s new constitution was adopted in the Constitutional Assembly, and seven months later signed into law – and SA Blog was there!

Your Correspondent, who went to Parliament for the adoption ceremony, remembers the day quite weil. The houses of Parliament were packed; the mood was festive. The politicians and Constitutional negotiators – mostly from the ANC, and the now-defunct, but previously in-power National Party – were beaming. The document they had constructed was already being hailed as among “the most progressive in the world”: not only did it enshrine a comprehensive Bill of Rights (in stark contrast to the racist dispensation by which South Africans had formerly been governed) but it also outlined a positive, interventionist role for government in promoting these rights.

As we filed out of Parliament for a ceremony on its steps, I got lost. I took a few wrong turns, and ended up descending by a stairway that took me right into the paths of – wait for it – Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk! Mandela was SA’s president at the time; FW was his deputy, in the first of SA’s Governments of National Unity (GNU). Such was the openness of South African political life at the time, that it was literally possible to walk up to and meet the president. I shook both their hands, and was fairly lightheaded for the rest of the day!

Outside Parliament, Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC’s chief negotiator, made a short speech, and then unveiled a huge mural, which took up the entire side of the building opposite the steps, depicting SA’s “road to democracy”. It was a splendid day – very much in keeping with the spirit of the “new South Africa” that had attracted me to this country in the first place.