Growing up during the early 90s, the world felt like a tumultuous place for Phephelaphi Dube.
“The nightly news would broadcast wars in Kuwait, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda,” she recalls.
“Then they’d move on to the violence that gripped our townships and in rural KwaZulu-Natal. It made me want to understand conflict and how best to maintain a peaceful society.”
It was through following the CODESA talks that she began to grasp the important quest for a national blueprint that both represents and protects everyone’s interests.
“I firstly understood our Constitution to be a peace treaty, but also a document which allowed every South African to achieve their fullest potential.”
Today Phephelaphi is about to reach her two-year milestone mark as director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CFCR), a unit of the FW de Klerk Foundation.
“The opportunities I have had so far in my life—for example, my ability to access higher education through an institution such as Stellenbosch University where, in the past, I would not have been permitted—are largely as a result of the Constitution.”
Phephelaphi , who first joined the FW de Klerk Foundation in 2014 as legal officer, describes the organisation as an advocate for the Constitution.
“We work to ensure that constitutional values and norms are respected by the state and the private sector. Our vision is to promote the Constitution as a blueprint, which ensures that the quality of life for all citizens is improved.”
To date there have been several important moments.
“One of them is Human Rights Day, because that’s when we release the results of our year-long research into the state’s performance of its constitutional obligations.
“I regard our Human Rights Report Card as a very important tool for measuring the success of South Africa’s constitutional democracy.”
Phephelaphi describes the report as a factual, objective assessment—free of anecdotes and hyperbole, and able to help to understand South Africa’s journey as a constitutional democracy.
One of the more challenging aspects of her position is to make submissions to parliamentary committees on various bills.
“I often get attacked for pointing out how bills and draft laws can be improved to further realise constitutional rights, because some members of parliament view such suggestions as attacks on their respective political parties.”
Why does she think there is such a disconnect between what the Constitution promises, and that of the lived experience of the average South African?
“I largely blame weak political leadership, as well as poorly-run public institutions.”
She goes on to say that there have been some notable achievements by the state since 1994 in the delivery of goods — including social security and housing.
“However, the fact that our education remains of a poor quality — combined with reported state corruption and maladministration — means that these achievements are undermined.”
Because of the high levels of poverty, many South Africans distrust the state, which, in turn, weakens the country’s social cohesion. To what extent does she believe the average South African is aware of his or her constitutional rights?
“In general, most South Africans are aware of the existence of the Constitution but are perhaps unaware of the finer details or nuances surrounding certain provisions.
“For example, most rights come with limitations, which can be interpreted as meaning that in exercising one’s rights, one should also be mindful of the rights of others.”
- By Steyn du Toit -