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The Warsaw Voice » Other » April 19, 2006
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The Rainbow Nation at Work
April 19, 2006   
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"Historical enemies succeeded in negotiating a peaceful transition from Apartheid to democracy, because we were prepared to accept the inherent goodness in each other. My wish is that South Africans never give up on the belief in goodness, that they cherish that faith in human beings as a cornerstone of our democracy." South Africa's first democratic President Nelson Mandela.

On May 10, 2006, South Africans will celebrate a decade since the adoption of their Constitution, which for the first time in its history guaranteed equality for all the inhabitants.

The first constitution of the Union of South Africa of 1910, adopted after the Anglo-Boer War, allowed for an accommodation between the British and Dutch settlers, but denied the black population basic rights. It provided the foundation for apartheid, allowing for the land dispossession of black people, and a host of other laws which made them second-class citizens in their land of birth.

In contrast, the national liberation movements consistently since 1912 called for a constitutional order which would give equal rights to all South Africans. The Freedom Charter, which was adopted in 1956, stated that "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white..."

The transition to democracy and a united nation
Therefore, following roundtable negotiations and the first non-racial elections on April 27, 1994, a constituent assembly of elected representatives of all South Africans drafted a new constitution, which was adopted by parliament on May 10, 1996.

The new Constitution boldly declares the founding values of the new South African nation-the recognition of human dignity and the achievement of human rights and freedoms. It also declares a commitment to fight racism and sexism, to view the supremacy of the Constitution as the highest law, the right to vote, and a multi-party system of government that ensures accountability, responsiveness and openness.

It seeks to find a delicate balance between addressing the fears of minorities and the aspirations of the majority. There is a deliberate attempt to ensure that the interests of minorities will not be wantonly disregarded, be this via language, culture or religion.

A Vision for a Better Future
The Constitution and Bill of Rights further provide a framework to address the legacy of apartheid and colonialism, at the same time committing the government to progressively provide access for all citizens to certain basic rights.

This was important because this legacy meant racially skewed distribution of land, opportunities and wealth. Therefore two South Africa's existed-for white South Africans a first-world standard of living and for black South Africans a situation of deliberate underdevelopment.

Since 1994, much progress has been made to address this legacy in providing access to basic services such as housing, electricity, clean water, education and basic healthcare.

Diversity and Equality
South Africa recognizes eleven (11) official languages, as well as all its people's religions and cultures. The country has a racially diverse population. The concept of a "rainbow nation" is a celebration of this unity in diversity.

The equality clause provides not only for racial equality, but also for the equality of men and women. South Africa has the highest number of women in government in the world.

Despite the remarkable progress made by the country, it still has a long way to address the legacy of inequality and poverty; and the social problems of violence and crime. Government in its election manifesto of 2004 committed to halve poverty and unemployment by 2014 and has introduced a range of policies to achieve these objectives.

The AIDS pandemic is another major challenge, and the country has adopted a multi-pronged strategy: focusing on prevention, support for those living with HIV and AIDS, treatment and research and monitoring.

Despite these challenges, business confidence and confidence of the general population (especially its young people) are high in the capacity of the country to overcome these problems and challenges
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