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A Blueprint: South Africa's Constitution

Dear Source:
Let me begin by saying that I support the creation of a Virgin Islands Constitution. I even testified at a meeting of the committee on the legislature to express my opinions on how our senate should be formed. Let me go a step further by saying that I respect many individual members of the Constitutional Convention and admire their work in helping to create such a document. Unfortunately there are some members of the Convention who have an agenda that will guarantee the failure, once again, of this worthwhile endeavor.
I am speaking specifically of the creation of classes of citizenship with the attendant special privileges that such distinctions will entail. The committee working on this would like to see all of us divided into three classes-Native Virgin Islander, Virgin Islander and Virgin Islands Citizen. Once these divisions are in place, with their definitions, then it opens the door for the legislature to designate singular rights for one group over the others. We are not far from having special tax breaks, special medical care, special retirement benefits, different voting rights and lord knows what else for only some citizens. Many members of the Convention have talked about wanting to create a document of inclusion and harmony, a document that will bring all of us with our commonality together as a people. The committee in question is not working toward those goals.
The Convention as a whole and the committee charged with this area of responsibility should take a look at a rather remarkable document, especially in the light in which it was created. I am talking about the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. If ever there had been an aggrieved populace in our world it was the vast majority of the citizens of South Africa. Apartheid had been the law of the day separating the races into different classes with different privileges. Sound familiar? When the change of rule came you had Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress taking over the reins of government and what did they do? They created a constitution with a preamble that said–
"We, the people of South Africa, recognize 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 every person; and
Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations."
The South African Bill of Rights is similarly well written. Here is what they had to say about citizenship, in a very straightforward and to the point manner.
"Citizenship–(1) There is a common South African citizenship.
(2) All citizens are–
(a) equally entitled to the rights, privileges and benefits of citizenship; and
(b) equally subject to the duties and responsibilities of citizenship."
All of this is a beautiful and hope fulfilling example of what a constitution can be. Please listen to the phrases– united in our diversity-all who live in it-every citizen-every person-common citizenship– this is what we should be hoping for in our Constitution.
Instead, I believe, there are members of the Convention who are trying to create a form of Apartheid here on our islands with special rights for special people. Apartheid in Afrikaans means separateness or apartness. I don't believe that is the direction we want in our constitution and I urge the Convention's members to rethink the sections in question. I ask them to look at South Africa's constitution and realize how great we are as a people together and not apart. If you don't, the citizens of our islands will not ratify a document with that kind of divisiveness.

Michael A. Monagle
St. Croix

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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