THE BLOG

Our Constitution Must Both Celebrate And Commemorate

Our Constitution reminds us that we HAVE these rights, because we are trying to fix a colonial and apartheid legacy.

31/03/2017 03:59 SAST | Updated 31/03/2017 03:59 SAST
Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters

A certain wise person, who is very dear to me, once wrote: "A constitution both narrates and authors a nation's history. The potency with which it can mould a politics of memory thus equals the authority with which it can shape the politics of the day". As all stories go, it remains one of many stories of where we are going as a nation. The constitution shapes one part of our memories.

This same wise person, drawing inspiration from an equally wise friend, poses the Constitution as either a monument (that remembers in a celebratory way) or a memorial (that remembers in a commemorative way, warning us). And the Constitution needs to be both to fulfil its promise.

I have been thinking about this human rights day of ours for a while. The other day a caller on 702 called and said "the CPS contract must just go on, even if it is unconstitutional. What is a constitution anyways? One cannot eat a constitution". It also reminds me of the quote often put up about the transgender person on the day that the Constitution was signed that proclaimed "will it stop me from getting raped? Probably not. But I have rights!" These things echo in my head, especially as someone that must teach students about certain human rights (the right to access to land and other resources) and how to read everything in line with this wonderful document of ours. Does it matter? Does our Constitution matter, or is it just some document that makes us feel good inside?

With the mess that this country is in at the moment, it is easy to stray off the path of being hopeful and finding the energy to work towards the common goal that the Constitution lays down, especially when the way to that goal is in dispute. And even more so if we cannot come to some sort of agreement on how we got here in the first place.

So I was thinking, maybe I can write a few positive things, to celebrate that document of ours. I can, for instance, celebrate children's rights. The way I would like to afford my children the space to exercise their rights to be children. The way I would like the world to view my children as being human beings. Children's rights as HUMAN rights. How being a child is enough.

I can, for instance, celebrate the fact that I could stand in a class last week, and while our spatial planning is in a mess and we have not nearly made the inroads we should have made by now, celebrate that no one is legally barred from living where they choose live.

These commemorative days are hard. They bring painful memories of lives lost, it show us just how horrible we humans can get if we are not careful.

I can celebrate that out of the three weddings my children attended in their lives, two were between people of the same sex. I can celebrate that I could go for a jog this morning and the roads and the park were filled with joggers and people who do not just look like me, and that we can greet each other and share public spaces. That they can be there without having to wear a pass or proclaim the reason why they are there. These are all the "monumentious" celebrations that one can have on a day like Human Rights Day.

But on Human Rights day my timeline is also filled with pictures of the Sharpeville massacre. Of people angry at Zille's ignorance about the hurt of colonialism. And in that sense, the Constitution today commemorates. And when commemorating, our Constitution (should) serve a "nie wieder!" function. It asks us to recall the atrocities, the crimes of the past in order to understand where we need to go. It reminds us that we HAVE these rights, because we are trying to fix a colonial and apartheid legacy, we are trying to say "we are better than we were before", even if we feel some days that we are not.

These commemorative days are hard. They bring painful memories of lives lost, it show us just how horrible we humans can get if we are not careful. It warns. It chastises. But it is exactly for this purpose that days like today should also be remembered in a commemorative way.

And once we regard the Constitution as both these modes, if we embrace both these modes of "remembering", I too believe that the existence of such a document might just be inclusive, constructive and invigorating.

So on Human Rights day, and any other day, but especially on Human Rights day, I will work with the contradictions that our Constitutional democracy brings. And I will pay due regard to the whole picture (for insofar a human can see the whole picture), and I will observe, remember, salute and acknowledge these rights as both something to celebrate, and something to commemorate in order to promote the full experience of living with these non edible human rights.