South Africa's first democratic elections that took place on 27 April 1994 heralded the arrival of a constitutional democracy where the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa is the highest law of the country. The Constitution sets out the political rules that every citizens in South Africa must obey - not even the President can act against the Constitution. The Constitution contains the Bill of Rights that explains what the rights of the public are and how the public is protected.
Under the old apartheid system, Parliament was supreme and could make any law that it wanted to make, even if the law took away people's basic human rights, such as the right to a fair trial. This can no longer happen, because the Constitution is supreme and it will not allow Parliament to make laws that are unjust.
The South African Constitution is the highest law of our country. It must be followed by the President, the Government and all the people of South Africa.
It tells us what the structures of Government are and what powers these structures have. For example, it sets out the powers of Parliament, the Legislature, the President, the Premier, the courts etc. It makes sure that your rights are properly protected, sets up independent institutions that check that Government is not abusing your rights and protects democratic principles.
The Constitution belongs to the people of South Africa. It is there to protect you. It is important for you to know your rights and to understand how institutions that represent you work.
English version of the Constitution
Xhosa version of the Constitution
Afrikaans version of the Constitution
seSotho version of the Constitution
Democracy is one of the ways of governing a country. It is based on the idea that everyone in a country should have a say about how the country is run.
However, because it is not possible for everyone to be in Parliament, people choose other people to represent them in Parliament and the Provincial Legislatures and to make decisions on their behalf. These people are chosen during an election when people vote for those whom they believe can best represent them.
CAN THE CONSTITUTION BE CHANGED?
Yes, it can, but it is hard to change the rules of the Constitution. It is much more difficult to change the Constitution than it is to pass an ordinary law. The Constitution also sets up independent courts to protect and enforce the Constitution.
Parliament can usually change ordinary laws if more than 50% of the Members of Parliament (those whom are present in the House) support the change. To change the Constitution, at least two-thirds (66 2/3%) of the Members of Parliament must agree to want the change.
IS THIS OUR FIRST CONSTITUTION?
This is our first democratic Constitution, but not our first Constitution. The previous Constitutions (1910, 1961 and 1983) were undemocratic as none of them protected the rights of all South Africans of all races and they only allowed a small number of South Africans to vote.
Before the first democratic elections could be held in April 1994, an Interim Constitution was written in 1993.