21 Years Anniversary Of Our Constitution” Looking Back, To Look Forward” At Constitution Hill

10 December 2017 marks the 21st Anniversary of our nation’s Constitution. In commemoration of this milestone in our country, the Constitution Hill Precinct and key partners will be hosting a series of events leading up to and including the anniversary date.  These events will embody a reflection of how far we have come as a nation in realising the aspirations of our democracy through our nation’s highest law; and more importantly what remains to be done towards attainment of fuller socio-economic emancipation for all South Africans.

Two years after the first democratic election (1994) the President of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, signed the final draft of the Constitution into law at Sharpeville, Vereeniging on 10 December 1996. The date on which the Constitution was signed marked International Human Rights Day. Furthermore, the location where the Constitution was signed was significant and symbolic of the betrayal and brutality of past governments.  

21 years after the signing, Constitution Hill similarly is a significant site for reflection. Once a former prison and military fort, the site bears testament to South Africa’s turbulent and inhumane past and, today, is home to the country’s Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land and a guardian of the Constitution.


Some Landmark Rulings of the Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court has over the two decades been the protector of our country’s democracy with several significant landmark rulings.  Some of these include, firstly, the 2002 case between Minister of Health and Others verses the Treatment Action Campaign and Others. This case is often referred to as the judgement that saved a million lives. In this historic judgment, the Court ordered the Government to make Nevirapine, or a suitable substitute, available at public clinics to pregnant mothers who sought it.  Consequently, South Africa became the largest publicly-provided AIDS treatment programme in the world.  This is undoubtedly the most significant material consequence of the decision.

Another landmark ruling progressing our nation’s democratic aspirations is that of the Economic Freedom Fighters v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others and Democratic Alliance v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others (2016).  This judgment considered whether the power of the Public Protector to “take appropriate remedial action” and whether her finding that President Zuma is required to pay back a reasonable portion of the money spent installing non-security upgrades at his private residence in his personal capacity is binding.   The Constitutional Court held that the power of the Public Protector to take appropriate remedial action has legal effect and is binding. In times when impunity seems prevalent in our society, this ruling was a watershed moment for our democracy as it reminded us of the Court’s crucial role as a bulwark against any conduct that falls short of the Constitution.

The Constitutional Court has made other judgement that have had a fundamental impact on people’s lives and a profound impact on South African law, thereby reinforcing the Constitutional principles of equality, dignity and freedom. The ruling on the abolition of the death penalty; the rulings on gender equality, on education and language, are but some examples.

The upcoming events at the precinct in commemoration of the 21st Anniversary will ensure a reflection on these gigantic strides toward a mature democracy in our nation, whose benefits are witnessed by the all of our nation’s populace.  The dialogue therein will also consider a sober reflection of what key actions are still needed by our nation towards a positive trajectory in the long walk to full emancipation of our people.


Key Anniversary events at ConHill

  • On the 8th December 2017 Constitution Hill in partnership with the National Heritage Council and Sandi Zinnia Baai Foundation will be hosting a book launch on “Black Sacrifice: The Sinking of the SS Mendi.  An often-forgotten tragedy of human rights violations and loss of life by over 600 black South African Soldiers.


  • On the 9th December 2017, the precinct will partner with the Thuli Madonsela foundation in a democracy festival where positive reflection of key issues in affecting our democracy will be discussed including topics such as what constitutes an ideal President for a developmental democratic state such as ours. (For more information please contact info@thumafoundation.org.)


  • The Main event of the Anniversary at the precinct will be on the 10th December where a lekgotla will be held with current and former Justices as well as other civil society representatives under the theme “Looking back, to look forward: the next 21 years of the Constitution.” Once again high on the agenda will be a reflection on the gains of our Constitution and more importantly how we as a society should define the next 21 years of the Constitution.

During this event a key SA icon will also be honoured. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is an example of a South African that has played his role in securing our well renowned Constitution. In honour of Tutu as one of the architects of our constitutional democracy a sculpture appropriately named the Arch for the Arch made up of 14 arches representing each chapter of the Constitution and each line of the Constitution’s Preamble, will be unveiled outside the Constitutional Court.

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