Although the Preamble has its place at the beginning of the Constitution, it was in fact drafted right at the end of the constitution-making process. The committee charged with writing the Preamble formulated draft after draft. Ultimately, they reached a deadlock concerning the exclusion of the opening line of the Preamble of the Interim Constitution, namely, ‘In humble submission to Almighty God’.
It was only at 2.40 am on Thursday, 18 April 1996 – 19 days to the deadline for the finalisation of the final Constitution – that a historic breakthrough was made on the issue. The final version was negotiated by Blade Nzimande (from the ANC) and Dr Boy Geldenhuys (from the NP).
Blade Nzimande presented the Constitutional Committee with the agreed-upon text during a marathon all-night session in Parliament. The Constitutional Committee convened on an almost hourly basis, receiving reports from sub-committees, multilaterals and bilaterals on several difficult issues. There was great surprise and jubilation that agreement had been reached on the text of the Preamble.
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How was our preamble written?
Who wrote the Preamble?
The writing of the Preamble was entrusted to a committee within the Constitutional Assembly. All of the political parties offered their views on what the Preamble should contain. These differed strikingly as can be seen from each of these submissions.
Read the proposed preambles from the different political parties
When was it written?
Although the Preamble has its place at the beginning of the Constitution, it was in fact drafted at the end of the constitution-making process. It therefore summarises the work done during the drafting process and the conclusions reached. It also recognizes the will of the people through public consultations conducted throughout the drafting process. In this way, it speaks on behalf of the people. The intention was to keep it simple so that even kids could learn the Preamble by heart. However, the process became highly contentious and kept the drafters busy until just weeks before the deadline.
The Freedom Charter and the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States also begins with the words ‘We, the People’.
When was it finalised?
In fact, it was at 2.40 am, on Thursday, 18 April 1996 – 19 days to the deadline for the finalisation of the final Constitution of South Africa – that Blade Nzimande from the ANC entered the committee room bearing evidence of a historic breakthrough on the issue of the Preamble. Blade Nzimande had in his hands the agreed-on text to show to the National Party’s (NP) Dr Boy Geldenhuys. In the previous weeks, the parties had reached a deadlock concerning the exclusion of the opening line of the Preamble of the Interim Constitution, namely, ‘In humble submission to Almighty God’.
The NP were resolute that a Preamble had to start with these words given the high percentage of South Africans who were Christians. Although the African National Congress (ANC) accepted that the majority of South Africans, including their own members regarded themselves as Christians, it would be wrong to impose a powerful religious stamp on a document governing the functioning of a secular state. There were several rounds of reformulations and negotiations continued around the wording with several options on the table. Blade Nzimande recalls that the NP couldn’t believe that agreement had been reached:
Everyone was looking and saying that there must be something fishy between the two of us. How can Boy Geldenhuys, who is so very anti-communist, sit with a communist on a one-to-one basis and actually reach some kind of understanding?
It was a really very exciting moment. It was sort of profound. Quite an unbelievable experience … I don’t even know that I realised what a historical moment it was for me personally, but I sat there, just doing my job, trying to work towards a Preamble and believing in everything that I wrote in it.
A LINE-BY-LINE STORY OF THE PREAMBLE
Key people in the drafting of the preamble were Boys Geldenhuys from the National Party and Joel Netshitenzhe and Blade Nzimande on behalf of the ANC. Here Joel Netshitenzhe and Kate Savage, then researcher and now a judge in the High Court, narrate the debates and issues over the Preamble line by line.
We, the people South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to
Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and (instead of just recognising only those who fought for justice)
Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.
God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika.