Keynote Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at an interaction with school learners at Malibu High School, Blue Downs, 18 August 2017
Principal, Mr Esterhuizen, and the staff of Malibu High,
Members of the School Governing Body,
Representatives from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development,
Representatives of the Western Cape Education Department,
Ladies and gentlemen,
And, more important, learners of Malibu High
Goeiemôre, molweni, good morning to you all.
When I studying for my law degree we had no choice but to study Latin – today it is no longer a requirement.
Luckily my Latin has come to good use, because your school motto is in Latin. It says “Vitae Discimus”, meaning we learn for life.
Learning for life is extremely important.
Learning, of course, relates to a very important constitutional right, namely the right to education.
The right to education, like many other human rights, are protected in our Constitution.
Why is the right to education so important? It’s important, because for a very long time in our country’s history there was discrimination in our education system. Not all learners had access to schooling, and often, if they had access, the quality of the education provided wasn’t that good.
Today, the Constitution says that everyone – not only South Africans, but everyone who is in our country – has the right to basic education, including adult basic education.
Statistics SA’s figures tell us that in the previous quarter of this year, 32% of our youth aged 15–24 years were not in employment nor in education or training.
Why are so many of our youth not in school?
Studies tell us that the main reason why learners decide to not go to school is poor academic performance. And nearly 13% of learners who are not in school said that there is “no money for school”.
Government continues to address this by providing for no-fee schools. Data from the Department of Basic Education shows that 77% of learners attended no-fee primary schools, while 76.7% of learners in public high schools attended no-fee schools.
Most worrying is that 10% of learners drop out of school because they say that education is not useful. The Constitution guarantees the right to education – but you cannot exercise that right if you are not in school. Education is an opportunity, and a constitutional right, make the most of it.
The Constitution, and in particular, the Bill of Rights in Chapter 2 of the Constitution, affects nearly everything we do.
Human rights are part and parcel of the very things that make a person a person.
You have exercised many of your human rights so far this morning. For example, beside the children’s rights in section 28, the fact that you are in school means that you are already exercising your right to education, which is in section 29.
Which other rights are in the Constitution?
Our Constitution sets out what every person’s individual rights are. Each and every one of us has many rights – such as the right to life. We have these rights because we are human beings.
In the past, some people had rights in our country, like the right to vote, but others were denied that right.
All of us now have political rights and the right to vote once we reach a certain age.
But rights bring with it responsibility. You can exercise your right, as long as that doesn’t impact or infringe on the rights of other people.
You will often see in the media and on the news that our courts, and especially our Constitutional Court, will pronounce on human rights matters or will help to interpret constitutional provisions.
For example, a recent court judgment was handed down by the Gauteng High Court regarding religion in schools.
There has been some misunderstanding about the case. The court did not say that religion isn’t allowed in schools, but the court held that public schools may not adopt or promote one religion to the exclusion of all others. In other words, a school cannot only allow for, or promote, one type of religion, because some of the learners might belong to another religion.
The State has a duty to protect and ensure Constitutional rights. For example, the Court has also said that it is the duty of the State, in terms of s 7 of the Constitution, to fulfil the right to education of every learner by providing him or her with every textbook necessary for his or her grade before start of the course for which the textbook is prescribed.
The Constitution also says that all of us have the right to freedom of expression – we can say what we think and feel, as long as it’s not hate speech, without the fear of being banned or prosecuted like in the days before democracy.
We all have freedom of movement and residence – everyone can live and work in whichever area they want and move across the country.
Every one of us now has the right to equality – this means that nobody may unfairly discriminate against anyone on the basis of their race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
The Constitution not only guarantees individual rights – also group rights. For example, the Constitution says that nobody may interfere with an individual’s right to use the language or to participate in the culture of his or her choice. It also guarantees a right to education in the language of an individual’s choice.
It also tells how all the elements of government are organised and what government must and must not do.
Rights are often entrenched in a special part of a constitution, called a Bill of Rights. Chapter 2 of our 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.
It is important that people know their constitutional rights.
A recent survey found that of the nearly 25 000 people surveyed, 51% had heard of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That is just over half, and we must do much more to make sure that people know their human rights.
If one analyses the 51% in terms of race and age, the level of awareness rises to 57% in the age category of 18-19 years. This means that our young people are generally more aware of the Constitution than the rest of the population.
Our Department created a Slimline version of the Constitution, and distributes copies to learners in schools countrywide. The booklet contains the Preamble and founding provisions of the Constitution as well as the Bill of Rights.
For most learners it is often the first time that they have ever read or had a copy of their very own Constitution. In 2016 some 593 000 copies were distributed to Grade 12 learners, this number has increased to nearly 853 000 in 2017.
To ensure that all South Africans, including persons with disabilities, are able to access the Constitution and learn about their rights, the Department has also translated the Constitution into all South African languages and also in Braille.
To make learning about the law and the Constitution fun, learners can also participate in the South African National School Moot Court Competition. The closing date for this year’s competition was on the 7th of August. So far 159 schools have submitted essays and next year we want to see lots of entries from Malibu High.
Today we will presenting you with copies of the Constitution. Take some time to read it and to think not only about your rights, but also the rights of others. Think about what we can do to ensure people know their rights and exercise them.
I want to close with a line from your school song. It says –
“There is only one! In the whole wide world!
I'm the only one you see!
That is very true. The Constitution acknowledges that we are all human, we are all entitled to human dignity, freedom and equally – but at the same time we are all different, we are all diverse. We are united in our diversity.
Celebrate who you are. Being the best or being perfect is great – but being unique and being yourself is greater. Be yourself – remember an original is worth more than a copy.
I thank you.