Speech by Baleka Mbete during the State of The Nation Address Debate

8 February 2006

Deputy Speaker
Mr President
Deputy President
Honourable Members

The President mentioned in his address that we are celebrating 10 years of the adoption of our very important document, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. The adoption of the Constitution marked the beginning of the definition of our shared future. It meant that the future was in our own hands.

The adoption of the Constitution heralded a new era in our country. Key to this was the inclusion of the Bill of Rights that guarantees fundamental rights, including the freedom of speech and association, right to life, equality, human dignity, political rights, citizenship and many others. As we celebrate that very important day, we need to look back and ask ourselves what impact the Constitution has had on the lives of our ordinary people. Have we used our Constitution as instrument to liberate our people? These are very important questions that as we interact with our constituencies we need to raise.

President's reference to 10th Anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution gives us an opportunity to pause and take stock. First, we need to celebrate 10 years of constitutional democracy. Secondly, to look at how we have the Constitution as a tool to ensure that we build a South Africa that truly belongs to all who live it. When we fought for freedom, we have driven by an ideal to build a non-racial South Africa where all its citizens are equal. This vision prevailed at Codesa, as the President quoted last week.

In the build-up to the State of the Nation Address we made public pronouncements where we mentioned that Parliament will engage in an Equality Review Campaign to help answer the question relating to progress or lack of it in impacting on the lives of people, especially women, children and the disabled.

Since 1994 we have passed 35 pieces of legislation under gender equality and 8 under disability. This demonstrates clearly our commitment to the constitutional provision that all citizens must enjoy equality in all walks of life.

Working with provincial legislatures, we will conduct some research using both secondary and primary sources of information. Secondary sources will include provincial and national desktop studies. Primary sources include government departments and NGOs dealing with gender and disabilities. Public hearings and provincial focus group discussions will also be utilised.

Given the recent self-assessment process of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) we will also use any feedback collected from that exercise. Reports resulting from this will be integrated into ongoing work programmes to address challenges, including any need to revisit or amend policy and legislation in the areas of gender and disability.

In Section 45 (1) c and d, the Constitution provides for a Constitutional Review Committee to review it at least annually. Over the years the leaders of that structure have raised concerns we must now pay attention to. To quote from a letter I received from the current Chairperson of the Committee "the time is appropriate for an objective assessment of its functionality."

The critical question we must ask ourselves is whether an annual review process is necessary. So far eight review processes under the committee have not yielded material change to the Constitution. A gap the committee identifies is the need to popularise the Constitution and regenerate interest among the public in their constitution. The constitution specifies the regularity of review as "at least annually." This means we need to carefully consider what we want to do and whether we must amend this provision in anyway.

2006 is a special year in a number of respects, including for South African women and the women of Africa. We are going to hold our annual Women's Parliament during the Women's month on the 4th August. At a continental level we must celebrate the election of the first democratically elected woman President in Liberia. The African continent is doing much better than other continents in this respect, inspite of us being the poorest continent and our women being at the bottom of the pile in this respect.

The women in the Pan African Parliament (PAP) are among the most capable politicians in their own parliaments and in the pan-african body itself. One of the 10 committees of the PAP is one that focuses on policies to respond to challenges relating to the poverty experienced by the continent's women.

This year Parliament will convene an International Women's Conference to enable participants to get a better understanding of NEPAD. More specifically the conference will create an opportunity to clarify and promote the women's agenda within NEPAD.

South Africa is also the host of the Congress of the Pan African Women's Organisation (PAWO) at the end of July, hopefully climaxing on the 44th Anniversary of PAWO, 31 July 06. The November 05 Council of PAWO held in Namibia decided that the theme of the Congress will be "PAWO shaping the Future of the African Women for the 21st Century." When this house last had a debate about this august organisation there was unanimity on the importance of such a vehicle to advance a continental women's agenda. The Women's Caucus of the PAP has placed the PAWO Congress on its agenda for its next session. One of the challenges to our country is that the PAWO Secretariat has indicated that South Africa is seen as the country that must take responsibility for the revival of PAWO.

In conclusion Mr President and Honourable Member, its it true that the road we have traversed is long and full of hope but indeed the road ahead is still long. Centuries of poverty, inequality and underdevelopment cannot be erased in less than 12 years of democratic rule. Let us embrace the season of hope, enhance it's possibilities for future generations.

I thank you!