Address by Mr Andries Nel, MP, Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development on the occasion of the graduation ceremony of the Constitutional Law and Human Rights Seminar organised by the Constitutional Court Clerks Alumni Association and the Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs Pro Bono Office in Alexandra, Johannesburg
21 Jun 2012
Mr. Mzi Mgudlwa, Deputy CEO of Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs
Mr. Justice Johan Kriegler, former Judge of the Constitutional Court
Mr Leon Wessels, former Deputy Chairperson of the Constitutional Assembly and member of the SA Human Rights Commission
Ladies and gentlemen
Comrades and friends
But especially, you - the graduates of the Constitutional Law and Human Rights Seminar who are receiving recognition for your efforts over the past few months.
This is a special day. It is your day but in many ways it is also a day that belongs to all of us, and it is a great honour to share it with you.
We would like to thank the Constitutional Court Clerks Alumni Association and the Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs Pro Bono Office for coming together in partnership with leaders in the community of Alexandra to present this constitutional law and human rights seminar.
Through this partnership the Association has realised one of the important objectives it had set itself, that of engaging in meaningful legal education.
It has created a conducive environment for learning about and reflecting on the foundational document of our post-apartheid state.
It has contributed to raising consciousness regarding the South African constitution and human rights.
Importantly, this seminar has also established a basis for networking amongst NGOs and capacitating leaders of non-governmental organisation (NGOs) to help build a human rights culture throughout the NGO sector and Alexandra community and assisted participants to define their role in a constitutional democracy.
It is significant that this seminar has taken place during 2012 as we celebrated the sixteenth anniversary of the adoption of our democratic Constitution by the Constitutional Assembly on 8 May 1996 and its signing on 10 December 1996 by former President Nelson Mandela, and, perhaps most importantly the fifteen years that it has been the supreme law of our land since it came into effect on 4 February 1997.
It is also significant that this seminar has taken place in Alexandra, a community that is marking its centenary this year. It is a community with a proud history of struggle for democracy and human rights - a community which through struggles such as the 1957 Bus Boycott produced leaders such as former President Nelson Mandela, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, former President of Mozambique, Samora Machel, Secretary General of the ANC, Alfred Nzo, Commander of UmKhonto we Sizwe, Joe Modise to name but a few. And of course a number of those graduating here today.
These struggles made it possible for us to adopt a Constitution described by President Nelson Mandela as, “our national soul, our compact with one another as citizens, underpinned by our highest aspirations and our deepest apprehensions.”
Despite being forged in the furnace of negotiations between those forces representing a dying and decaying apartheid past and those representing a democratic and progressive future, the Constitution emerged true to its ancestry.
The Bill of Rights adopted by the ANC in 1923, the Africans’ Claims adopted by the ANC in 1943, and the Freedom Charter adopted in 1955 are the tributaries that fed the wellspring that is our Constitution.
Next week will mark the 57th anniversary of the adoption of the Freedom Charter on 26 June 1955.
Our Constitution is a revolutionary and transformative document. It is the supreme law of the land, the basis for the transformation of our society into a united, a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic state founded on the values of human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.
It is a framework predicated on our collective desire to heal the divisions of the past and to establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights and to progressively improve the quality of life for our people and to build a united democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place among the Community of Nations.
Some of its basic principles include multi-party democracy, the doctrine and practice of separation of powers in a constitutional democracy, equal human rights and access to opportunity, freedom of speech and of the media, equality of all before the law, respect for the rights of linguistic, religious and cultural communities, social equity and practical corrective action against racial, gender and other forms of discrimination.
It bears testimony to the fact that our liberation struggle, even in the midst of bitter confrontation, developed moral values of human compassion and solidarity far beyond the narrow confines of its opposition to the apartheid social system. It represented something good, not just something better than apartheid. It asserted the humanness of the human spirit.
We commend the organisers of this Seminar for the thoughtful manner in which they structured this seminar around themes such as the road that led to the Constitution and the initiation of a human rights culture. The recognition that with rights come responsibilities and that this applies especially to our daily lives. The Constitution:what it can and cannot achieve. Where is my agency and how do I unleash it in the context of our individual and collective power.
By studying areas such as the making of the Constitution, access to information, access to justice, socio-economic rights and crime and the Constitution you have touched upon some of the most crucial issues confronting our society today.
We are impressed with the breadth of the basic source material used during the seminar, including: the South African Constitution, Interim South African Constitution, Communist Manifesto, Freedom Charter, Criminal Procedure Act re: standard for bail, National Planning Commission Diagnostic Report Executive Summary, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights as well as Judgments of the Constitutional Court.
The fundamental questions that you grappled with are the very questions that each and every South African citizen needs to engage on:
What do you think is the vision of the Constitution?
What is your role in realising it?
What is the role of your organisation in realising it?
What are the values of the Constitution?
How do your values relate to the values of the Constitution?
We wish, therefore, to express our support for valuable initiatives such as this Constitutional Law and Human Rights Seminar.
In this regard, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has partnered with the Foundation for Human Rights to support civil society organisations working in the justice and human rights sector through the Access to Justice and Promotion of Constitutional Rights Programme.
This programme, with the financial support of the EU, seeks to address areas such as:
- Improved access to justice for vulnerable and marginalised groups
- Improved awareness and knowledge of constitutional rights in South Africa for vulnerable and marginalised groups, and
- Enhanced participatory democracy through public policy dialogue and strengthening civil society organisations.
The overall objective of the programme is to contribute to the strengthening of democracy by improving access to justice and promoting constitutional rights through civil society organisations.
In implementing this programme priority is given to the most vulnerable groups in society.
The targeted communities and beneficiaries include women and children, rural and urban poor communities, farm workers, people affected by HIV/Aids, child headed households people affected by violations of human rights, the aged, persons with disabilities, youth including children in prisons, and prisoners, refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants.
Some of the challenges which the programme addresses include:
- Enhancing the capacity of civil society to participate meaningfully in governance.
- Addressing the prevalence racism and xenophobia.
- Protecting and promoting of rights of the elderly, disabled, children and women.
- Protecting and promoting the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants,and
- Enhancing access to justice for the poor.
The department is committed to this programme and believes that the constitutionally mandated need for a developmental state is more likely to be met by promoting and enhancing participation and accountability through partnerships between the civil society and government.
Therefore, we wish you well as you leave this Seminar and continue your work in the Community of Alexandra to build the society described in our Constitution.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
21 Jun 2012
[ Top ]