Basic provisions of the Constitution

What is a Constitution?

A Constitution is a body of fundamental principles according to which a State is to be governed. It sets out how all the elements of government are organised and contains rules about what power is wielded, who wields it and over whom it is wielded in the governing of a country. It can be seen as a kind of contract between those in power and those who are subjected to this power. It defines the rights and duties of citizens, and the mechanisms that keep those in power in check.

Our Constitution is the most important - or supreme - law of the land. No other law may conflict with it; nor may the Government do anything that violates it. In a constitutional democracy such as ours, the Constitution is superior to Parliament and is the yardstick by which all other laws are judged. It applies to all organs of State. The Constitutional Court is South Africa’s highest court on constitutional matters and is the body that has the final say on the interpretation of the Constitution.

The Importance of the Preamble, Chapter 1 (Founding Provisions) and Chapter 2 (Bill of Rights) of the Constitution

Most constitutions emerge out of special circumstances. South Africa underwent a radical transition from the oppressive apartheid regime (a system founded on parliamentary sovereignty) to a constitutional democracy committed to the creation of a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.

The Preamble is a brief introductory statement that sets out the guiding purpose and principles of the Constitution. Chapter 1 enshrines key constitutional principles and, because they are so important they are more difficult to change.

Section 1 may only be amended by a Bill passed by the National Assembly, with a supporting vote of at least 75 per cent of its members and the National Council of Provinces, with a supporting vote of at least six provinces.

Constitutions and constitutionalism go hand-in-hand with human rights. Rights are often entrenched in a special part of a constitution, called a Bill of Rights. Chapter 2 of the 1996 Constitution contains South Africa’s Bill of Rights. It is this part of the Constitution that has attracted the greatest interest - and has had the greatest impact on South Africans - in the past few years. These provisions deal with the rights to equality, human dignity, life and privacy, among others, as well as the freedoms of religion and expression. They also touch on labour relations, children, education and the legal process.

Chapter 2 may only be amended by a Bill passed by the National Assembly, with a supporting vote of at least two thirds of its members and the National Council of Provinces, with a supporting vote of at least six provinces.

English: The basic provisions of the Constitution: Preabmle, Founding Provisions and Bill of Rights

Afrikaans: The basic provisions of the Constitution: Preabmle, Founding Provisions and Bill of Rights

isiNdebele: The basic provisions of the Constitution: Preabmle, Founding Provisions and Bill of Rights

isiXhosa: The basic provisions of the Constitution: Preabmle, Founding Provisions and Bill of Rights

isiZulu The basic provisions of the Constitution: Preabmle, Founding Provisions and Bill of Rights

Sepedi: The basic provisions of the Constitution: Preabmle, Founding Provisions and Bill of Rights

Sesotho: The basic provisions of the Constitution: Preabmle, Founding Provisions and Bill of Rights

Setswana: The basic provisions of the Constitution: Preabmle, Founding Provisions and Bill of Rights

Siswati: The basic provisions of the Constitution: Preabmle, Founding Provisions and Bill of Rights

Xitsonga: The basic provisions of the Constitution: Preabmle, Founding Provisions and Bill of Rights

Tshivenda: The basic provisions of the Constitution: Preabmle, Founding Provisions and Bill of Rights

Text as at Friday, 11 March, 2016