The first thing I would tell Baleka Mbete after her embarrassing statement that the Constitution is just a guideline is that as citizens of the Republic of South Africa, we don’t have one single thing that binds us all together except our Constitution. We are not a single ethnic group, we are not a single religious group, and we have a very extensive history as a people.
I would also tell her that throughout history, it is the exception, rather than the rule, that individuals of different ethnic and religious groups can live together peacefully. But our Constitution enshrines the principle that government exists to protect the rights of all citizens, and has no legitimate power to deprive any citizen or class of citizen of their rights without due process of law. Our country, under the Constitution, has been more successful than most in allowing individuals of different ethnic and religious groups to live together peacefully; and when we have failed, it has been because of the failures of citizens to respect the equality of all under the Constitution, or the failures of public officials to respect just limits on power.
Finally, I would tell her that in a country as large as ours, it is literally impossible for any one individual, or agency, or government to know all there is to know in order to ensure the safety and happiness of the people. Our Constitution recognizes this, and therefore guarantees the principles of individual liberty, limited government, and federalism.
I'm embarrassed for your sake that you make such statements while at some point in your life your were the Deputy President of this country.
The Constitution is of crucial importance for every person who lives in South Africa for the following reasons:
- It guarantees our most basic rights, including our right to life, freedom, property and to participate freely in our democratic system.
- It articulates the values for which the new South Africa stands and the goals for which we strive;
- It actively promotes the equality of all South Africans and prohibits unfair discrimination of any kind. It entrenches our right to practice our religion and to speak and educate our children in the language and cultural traditions of our choice. This is also especially important for cultural, political and religious minorities. The majority can usually secure its interests through its control of Parliament and the levers of state power. Minorities on the other hand are often dependent on the Constitution and the law for the protection of their most important interests.
- It provides a blueprint for peace, justice and harmony that was freely negotiated and accepted by parties representing substantial majorities from all our communities. This is particularly important for a country like South Africa, with a complex population and a history of division and conflict