Democratic Constitution in South Africa
Struggle Against Apartheid
Apartheid referred to the policy of discrimination on the basis of race as practiced by the government of South Africa.
Signs of Apartheid
The main features of this policy were as follows:
- All people were classified and separated on the basis of race.
- Each group had to live in a separate area.
- There were separate schools and universities, separate shopping centres, separate coaches in trains.
- Marriage between persons belonging to two races was a criminal offence.
- There was a restriction on movement from one place to another.
- Non-whites had no votes. They had no say in the governance of the country.
- In short, the policy of apartheid human denied human rights and rendered the government of South Africa among the most oppressive regimes in the world in the 20th century.
Try yourself:Apartheid in South Africa was discrimination on the basis of
Apartheid is discrimination on the basis of race.
Apartheid, (Afrikaans: “apartness”) policy governed relations between South Africa's white minority and nonwhite majority and sanctioned racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against nonwhites.
The End of the Policy of Apartheid
- In 1910 the African National Congress was formed which aimed at establishing a non-racial democratic South Africa. The movement was intensified in the 1950s.
- In the 1960s, the African National Congress was banned. The African National Congress organized its own army to fight against the racial regime. The UN condemned the policy of South Africa.
- In the 1980s, some western countries imposed sanctions against South Africa. By the end of the 1980s, the international isolation of the government of South Africa was complete. With it began the process of ending the apartheid.
- The ban on the Africa National Congress was lifted and its leaders released. Negotiations began between the African National Congress and the South Africa government for framing a new constitution which would give all South Africans the right to vote.
- In April 1994, elections were held in South Africa as per the new provisions. The African National Congress won with a thumping majority and formed a non-racial democratic government.
- Finally, at midnight of 26 April 1994, the new national flag of the Republic of South Africa was unfurled making the newly born democracy in the world.
Towards a New Constitution
- The party that had ruled through oppression and brutal killings and the party that led the freedom struggle sat together to draw up a common constitution. One of the finest constitutions the world has ever had.
- It gave to its citizens the most extensive rights available in any country. The Constitution makes it clear that in the search for a solution to the problems, nobody should be excluded, no one should be treated as a demon, everybody should become part of the solution, whatever they might have done or represented in the past.
- The South African constitution inspires democrats all over the world. A state denounced by the entire world till recently as the most undemocratic one is now seen as a model of democracy.
Nelson Mandela - Gandhi of South Africa Nelson Mandela
- Nelson Mandela was one of the most able, efficient and far-sighted leaders of the African National Congress.
- It was under his leadership that the struggle against apartheid reached its climax. Due to participation in the movement against apartheid, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. He spent the next 28 years in prison.
- In the 90s, due to the activities of the African National Congress and the support, it got from other countries of the world, South African regime was completely isolated from the world. In order to create a favourable atmosphere, Nelson Mandela was released in 1990.
- In 1999 the first democratic elections were held and Nelson Mandela was elected the President of South Africa.
Why do we need a Constitution?
- A Constitution of a country is a set of written rules that are accepted by all people living together in a country.
- The constitution is the supreme law that determines the relationship among people living in a territory (called citizens) and also the relationship between the people and government.
- A constitution does many things:
(i) First, it generates a degree of trust and coordination that is necessary for different kinds of people to live together;
(ii) Second, it specifies how the government will be constituted, who will have the power to take which decisions;
(iii) Third, it lays down limits on the powers of the government and tells us what the rights of the citizens are;
(iv) Fourth, it expresses the aspirations of the people about creating a good society.
- All countries that have constitutions are not necessarily democratic. But all countries that are democratic will have constitutions.
- After the War of independence against Great Britain, the Americans gave themselves a constitution. After the revolution, the French people approved a democratic constitution. Since then it has become a practice in all democracies to have a written constitution.
Making of the Indian Constitution
Preamble of the Indian Constitution
- The making of the constitution for a huge and diverse country like India was not an easy affair.
- The people of India were emerging from the status of subjects to that of citizens.
- The country was born through a partition on the basis of religious differences. At Least ten lakh people were killed on both sides of the border in partition related violence.
- The British had left it to the rulers of the princely states to decide whether they wanted to merge with Indian or with Pakistan or remain independent. The merger of these princely states was a difficult and uncertain task.
- When the constitution was being written, the makers of the constitution has anxieties about the present and the future of the country.
The Path to Constitution
- Our national movement was not merely a struggle against a foreign rule. It was also a struggle to rejuvenate our country and to transform our society and politics.
- The familiarity with political institutions of the colonial rule also helped develop an agreement over the institutional design. The experience gained by Indians in the working of the legislative institutions proved to be very useful for the country in setting up its own institutions.
- Many of our leaders were inspired by the ideals of the French Revolutions, the practice of Parliamentary democracy in Britain and the Bill of Rights in the USA. So they incorporated some good points of the Constitution in the Indian Constitution.
- They also got inspiration from the Constitution drafted by Moti Lal Nehru and eight other Congress leaders in 1928, and the outlines of the Indian Constitution prepared by the Indian National Congress at its Karachi session in 1931.
The Constituent Assembly
First Constituent Assembly
- The Constitution of India was framed by a Constituent Assembly set up under the Cabinet Mission Plan, 1946.
- The assembly consisted of 389 members representing provinces (292), states (93), the chief commissioner provinces (3) and Baluchistan (1).
- The assembly held its first meeting on December 6, 1946. It elected Dr. Rajendra Prasad as its Chairman. Soon after the country was divided into India and Pakistan.
- The Constituent Assembly was also divided into the Constituent Assembly of India and that of Pakistan. The Constituent Assembly that wrote the Indian Constitution had 299 members.
- The Assembly adopted the Constitution on 26 November 1949 but it came into effect on January 26, 1950. To mark this day we celebrate January 26 as Republic Day every year.
Why should we accept the Constitution made by the Constituent Assembly more than 50 years ago?
- The Constitution does not reflect the views of its members alone. It expresses a broad consensus of its time. Many countries of the world have had to rewrite their constitution afresh because the basic rules were not accepted to all major social groups or political parties. In some other countries, the Constitution exists as a mere piece of paper. No one actually follows it. The experience of our constitution is different. Over the last half a century, several groups have questioned some provisions of the Constitution. But no large social group or political party has ever questioned the legitimacy of the Constitution itself. This is an unusual achievement for any constitution.
- The Constituent Assembly represented the people of India. There was no universal adult franchise at that time. So the Constituent Assembly could not have been chosen directly by all the people of India. It was elected mainly by the members of the existing Provincial Legislatures. This ensured a fair geographical share of members from all the regions of the country. The Assembly represented members from different language groups, castes, classes, religions and occupations.
- The manner in which the Constituent Assembly worked gives sanctity to the Constitution. The Constituent Assembly worked in a systematic, open and consensual manner. First, some basic principles were decided and agreed upon. Then a Drafting Committee chaired by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar prepared a draft constitution for discussion. Several rounds of thorough discussion took place on the Draft Constitution, clause by clause. More than two thousand amendments were considered. Every document presented and every word spoken in the Constituent assembly has been recorded and preserved. These are called ‘Constituent Assembly Debates’. When printed, these debates are 12 bulky volumes! These debates provide the rationale behind every provision of the Constitution. These are used to interpret the meaning of the Constitution
Guiding Values of the Indian Constitution
The Dream and the Promise
There were many members who followed the vision of Mahatma Gandhi. This dream of an India that has eliminated inequality was shared by Dr Ambedkar, who played a key role in the making of the Constitution, but his vision of removing inequalities from India was different from Gandhiji.
Philosophy of the Constitution
Values that inspired and guided the freedom struggle and were in turn nurtured by it, formed the foundation for India’s democracy. Given below are the values embedded in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution.
- We, the People of India: The Constitution has been drawn up and enacted by the people through their representatives, and not handed down to them by a king or any outside powers.
- Sovereign: People have the supreme right to make decisions on internal as well as external matters. No external power can dictate the Government of India.
- Socialist: Wealth is generated socially and should be shared equally by society. The government should regulate the ownership of land and industry to reduce socio-economic inequalities.
- Secular: Citizens have complete freedom to follow any religion. But there is no official religion. The government treats all religious beliefs and practices with equal respect.
- Democratic: A form of government where people enjoy equal political rights, elect their rulers and hold them accountable. The government is run according to some basic rules.
- Republic: The head of the state is an elected person and not a hereditary position.
- Justice: Citizens cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of caste, religion and gender. Social inequalities have to be reduced. The government should work for the welfare of all, especially of the disadvantaged groups.
- Liberty: There are no unreasonable restrictions on the citizens in what they think, how they wish to express their thoughts and the way they wish to follow up their thoughts in action.
- Equality: All are equal before the law. The traditional social inequalities have to be ended. The government should ensure equal opportunity for all.
- Fraternity: All of us should behave as if we are members of the same family. No one should treat a fellow citizen as inferior.
Try yourself:Which of the following terms is not included in the Preamble to the Indian Constitution?
The term that is not included in the preamble of the Indian Constitution is Religion.
The Preamble of the Constitution is the preface of the constitution and based on the basic structure of the constitution. Preamble constitutes the following words: Liberty, Equality, Justice, Secular, Fraternity, Sovereign, Socialist, Democratic, Republic.
Those who crafted the Indian Constitution felt that it has to be in accordance with people’s aspirations and changes in society. They did not see it as a sacred, static and unalterable law. So, they made provisions to incorporate changes from time to time. These changes are called constitutional amendments. Till date 104 amendments have been made to the constitution.
The amendment procedure provided in the constitution is as follows. There are three categories of amendments:
(i) In the first category, amendments can be done by a simple majority of members present and voting before sending it for the President’s assent.
(ii) In the second category, amendments require a special majority. such an amendment can be passed by each house of Parliament by the two-thirds majority of the members of the house present and voting and then sent to the President for his assent.
(iii) The third category, amendments is really difficult to pass. besides the special majority mentioned in the second category, the same has to be approved by at least 50 per cent of the state legislatures.