Country's fate in your hands, Mbete tells youth on Constitution's 20th anniversary

2017-03-03 13:06
Baleka Mbete

Baleka Mbete

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Cape Town – The country’s fate is in your hands. This was National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete’s message to South Africa's youth, as she marked 20 years of the Constitution on Friday.

It was a "cool thing" for young South Africans to put the country’s flag on their hearts, she said.

"The baton has been passed to you. Always remember that you are standing on the shoulders of heroes and heroines. Leave your own mark on the political and economic development of this country."

Mbete and NCOP chairperson Thandi Modise were hosting a celebratory event in the National Assembly to remember the Constitution's adoption on May 8, 1996.

It was approved by the Constitutional Court on December 4, 1996, and took effect officially on February 4, 1997.

Mbete said young South Africans needed to appreciate the sacrifices made by the previous generation of leaders, including Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo.

'Sleepless nights in our finest hour'

She said Tambo was crucial in setting up a constitutional committee in 1985, after a recurring nightmare he had that the ANC would not be ready to negotiate, were the apartheid government to approach them.

"Today we pay tribute to the men and women who spent sleepless nights drafting the new Constitution. It was our greatest achievement, it was our finest hour."

She paid tribute to the Constitutional Court judges who presided over its certification.

Mbete did not paint a rosy picture of the negotiation period.

'Compromise, negotiation'

She said the Constitution was a product of "compromise and negotiation" between then warring politicians.

"It had to be done in order to accommodate fellow South Africans, to implement what was agreed and then live together after that. That would be the difficult and longest part: to live together.

"It was a peace pact between warring factions of South Africa's society."

Guests invited to the event included about 120 students from around the country. They were treated to a 20-minute video highlighting the lead-up to that historic day in May 1996, and the robust negotiations that year, chaired by then ANC MP Cyril Ramaphosa and National Party MP Leon Wessels.

Many of the guests and politicians smiled as they took the walk down memory lane.

The discussion panel included drafters of the original document in the early 1990s, including Wessels, IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi and ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe.

'We did not think we'd be alive'

Modise said the drafting of the Constitution was a "give and take". She said it was a political compromise that created the NCOP, which replaced the then Senate.

Mac Maharaj, who acted as a moderator, said he came from a generation that did not expect to be alive in 1994. He said it was a privilege to have been there. Memories flooded back to him as he listened to the speakers and watched the video.

He thanked Mbete and Modise for their "reflective" input, rather than the traditional "praise singing" of the Constitution.

Buthelezi, Meshoe, Wessels and others were due to speak "in conversation" on Friday.

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