On 10 December 1984, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu accepted the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in Norway.
As South Africa’s foremost campaigner for democracy, Tutu used the moment to denounce apartheid South Africa as a land bereft of justice, and therefore without peace and security. He boldly stated that unrest would remain an unchanging feature of the South African landscape until apartheid, the root cause of it all, was finally dismantled.
At the time no one could have anticipated that exactly 12 years later to the day, 10 December 1996, Nelson Mandela would, as South Africa’s first democratically elected president, be signing our Constitution into law and marking the birth of a new nation.
That momentous occasion is a reminder of what Tutu believed to be true, that “the arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. However, the moral arch of history does not bend towards justice of its own will; it is bent by we, the people. Our constitutional democracy would not be possible without leaders such as Tutu and all the people who fought and died for their convictions in Sharpeville, Sophiatown, Soweto and every stage, big and small, where the struggle for social justice and democracy was waged.
In honour of Tutu as one of the architects of our constitutional democracy, a 9m-high monument called the Arch for Arch – made up of 14 strands representing each chapter of the Constitution and each line of the Constitution’s Preamble – was unveiled in Cape Town on Tutu’s 86th birthday, on 7 October 2017.
In acknowledgement of Tutu’s historic ties to the City of Johannesburg, a replica of the monument will be installed at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on the 21st anniversary of the South African Constitution, 10 December 2017.
Constitution Hill, as the home of the Constitutional Court and a heritage and human rights precinct, represents the ideals that Tutu and many others fought for. The Arch for Arch will form part of Constitution Hill’s We, the People campaign, which is a call to all South Africans to actively participate in building our hard-won democracy and to recommit to the creative transformation of South Africa.
The endurance of our democracy and whether the arch of history continues to bend towards justice is up to we, the people. The Constitution gives expression to the imperative that the people shall govern. Tutu as an activist and a moral leader has reminded us of this imperative by example and by his words.
He said at the at the first gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he led, that “we have seen a miracle unfold before our very eyes and the world has marvelled as South Africans, all South Africans, have won this spectacular victory over injustice, oppression and evil. The miracle must endure. Freedom and justice must become realities for all our people and we have the privilege of helping to heal the hurts of the past, to transcend the alienations and the hostilities of that past so that we can close the door on that past and concentrate in the present and our glorious future.”
The Constitution and our democracy can only be as good as we demand them to be. We are steeped in the tradition of civic activism, and Constitution Hill is at the forefront of that civic activism.
Dawn Robertson, the CEO of Constitution Hill, has stated that the Arch for Arch is a call to our citizenry to continue the creative transformation of our country. It should remind us that it is we, the people who are the real history makers. Following in the tradition of leaders such as Tutu means that we, the people shall recommit ourselves to the creative transformation of our country, as demanded by the Constitution.