Chapter 1 - The South African Constitution and Bill of Rights
In 1994, after decades of living under an apartheid government, the first democratic election was held in South Africa. For the first time South Africa could call itself a democracy because everyone who was a citizen of South Africa could vote in the elections. The Constitutional Assembly was constituted with the task of drawing up a Constitution to represent the interests and needs of all the people of South Africa. Included in the Constitution was a Bill of Rights which gives people rights and responsibilities.
A constitution of a country sets out:
A constitution is the highest law in the land and must be respected by all government bodies. It is higher than parliament and it can override any law that parliament makes if the law goes against the constitution. No law can go against the constitution, whether it is a customary law or a law that parliament makes.
The South African Constitution of 1996 is a document that consists of 14 chapters. It says how the government should rule the country and it has a Bill of Rights that protects the human rights of all citizens.
Democracy means that everyone has a say about how the country is run. In a democracy, the government is put into power by its citizens. The adult citizens of a democracy elect their government. One way they do this is by choosing people to represent them in a parliament. In a multi-party system, the party that gets the majority votes governs the country.
Characteristics that identify a democracy, include:
Citizens can participate in government
It is everyone's right and duty to participate in government.
All people are equal before the law
There is no legal discrimination based on race, religion, gender or other reason. Groups and individuals have a right to their own cultures, languages, beliefs and so on.
Various opinions, beliefs, cultures, religions and so on need to be tolerated. So, while the majority of the people rule in a democracy, the rights of the minority must still be protected.
Officials that are elected and appointed in government positions are accountable to the people for their actions and decisions.
In a democracy, people and the media (newspapers, tv, radio) can get information about what government decisions are being made, who is making the decisions and the reasons for the decisions.
Regular, free and fair elections
Citizens choose their own representatives for government. They elect these officials in a free and fair way, without corruption. For example, votes are secret. Elections are held regularly (at least every 5 years).
People can own property and businesses and they can choose their own work and join labour unions.
Controlling abuse of power
There must be ways to prevent government officials from abusing their power. The courts are independent from the government, and there are other bodies that have the power to act against corrupt government officials.
Democracies aim to respect and protect the human rights of all citizens. There may be a Bill of Rights to protect people's rights.
A multi-party system means that more than one political party can participate in elections, so that people can choose who they want to represent them in government.
The rule of law
No one is above the law, including the President. This means that the law must treat everyone in an equal and fair way.
© This material may not be used for profit without permission from ETU
ETU can not respond to requests for legal advice, contact the organisations listed under Resources.