(By Greg Nott)
“As we celebrate the women in our midst this month, we as the people of South Africa would do well to remember and embrace the preamble of our Constitution in our homes, in our communities, in our schools and in our workplaces.”
These are the words of Greg Nott, Caster Semenya’s lawyer. “I think one of the biggest reasons for the extreme levels of violence against women is our lack of appreciation and respect for our Constitution,” says Nott.
Read the article below on his views on our Constitution, and how it contributes towards protecting the rights of women and children in our society.
Let’s cherish our Constitution and the women among us
“We the people of the United States” is the opening line of the preamble of the United States Constitution and the introduction to one of the most important parts of their history. It quotes their commitment to equality, justice, liberty, welfare, defense and peace. Many Americans have memorised the preamble, which highlights that America is a democracy and that it’s not a king or queen, the courts or any other person or structure but the people that have the power to decide on how their nation is governed.
I’ve heard the preamble and parts of the American Constitution cited in many different contexts and it’s always been my perception that it is a piece of history beloved by Americans from all walks of life, no matter their political inclinations or interests. There seems to be a common appreciation and respect for their Constitution that fascinates me.
In South Africa, we have the most beautiful preamble that also starts with ‘We, the people’, but I don’t often hear it quoted in non-legal circles:
We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to
- Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
- Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
- Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
- Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
May God protect our people.
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.
God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika.
Our Constitution is the highest law in our land and is the foundation of our democracy
It establishes our commitment to be governed free of oppression and discrimination and the Bill of Rights contained within it, gives every South African the inalienable right to life, equality, human dignity and privacy.
According to Parliament, “The Constitution contains the most important rules of our political system. It protects the rights of the people inside the country, and it explains their obligations. It defines the institutions of South Africa, what their powers are, and how they may use their powers. All South Africans must know about the Constitution and what it means for them.”
We had an important reset and restart in 1994 with our first democratic election, which was followed by the adoption of our Constitution in 1996. Ours is lauded as the most progressive Constitution in the world and was birthed in the minds of those who experienced first-hand the impact of a lack of a democratic Constitution when they endured legally sanctioned hardships of oppression and humiliation during apartheid.
Ours is lauded as the most progressive Constitution in the world and was birthed in the minds of those who experienced first-hand the impact of a lack of a democratic Constitution when they endured legally sanctioned hardships of oppression and humiliation during apartheid.
Many people’s rights are violated on a daily basis
As we commemorate Women’s Month this August, I would say that it’s common cause that many South Africans have their inalienable rights violated on a daily basis and for them, the Constitution describes their ideals but does not articulate their reality.
I think one of the biggest reasons for the extreme levels of violence against women is our lack of appreciation and respect for our Constitution. If we loved the Constitution, then every woman would enjoy the right to live, the right to be equal to a man (right to equality), the right to not be abused and the right to earn a living (the right to human dignity) and the right to privacy instead of being violated.
Our Constitution does not only provide a guide for how to live and be governed at a national level, but it can also guide us on a personal level because it sets the boundaries for good and sound moral behaviour. Boundaries are incredibly important at the individual level – they allow the good in, keep the bad out, define who you are and aren’t, what you will and won’t allow. Being a whole and healthy person means knowing our boundaries because they define and shape one’s identity. If we don’t know our Constitution, we won’t know who we are as a nation and what principles and actions define us and make us ‘South African’.
After all, what we don’t understand we can’t implement
It’s like having a world-beating global corporate branding strategy, with staff and employees that are unaware of its contents, objectives and values let alone how to be brand ambassadors.
As we celebrate the women in our midst this month, we as the people of South Africa would do well to remember and embrace the preamble of our Constitution in our homes, in our communities, in our schools and in our workplaces. We have the power to choose to live according to the Constitution, to emulate its values and hold those in power up against the standards that it sets. We owe it to ourselves and the women in our communities to cherish and live it as an essential part of our daily lives.