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Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at a Dialogue on Constitutional Education, Howick High School, KZN, 17 April 2018

Programme Director, Ms Ngema
The Principal and staff of Howick High School
Mayors and representatives from local government
Representatives of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and the Department of Basic Education,
And, most important, the learners here today

This morning we visited the Nelson Mandela Capture Site – the place where, on the 5th of August 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested on charges of leaving the country without a passport.

Mandela was disguised as a chauffeur and was driving with fellow activist Cecil Williams from KwaZulu-Natal to Gauteng. In his autobiography, A Long Walk To Freedom, Madiba writes:

“Cecil and I were engrossed in discussions of sabotage plans as we passed through Howick, 20 miles north-west of Pietermaritzburg….

… I noticed a Ford V-8 filled with white men shoot past us on the right… I knew in that instant that my life on the run was over; my seventeen months of ‘freedom’ were about to end…

When our car stopped, a tall slender man with a stern expression came directly over to the window on the passenger side. He was unshaven and it appeared that he had not slept in quite a while. I immediately assumed he had been waiting for us for several days.”

The man introduced himself as Sergeant Vorster of the Pietermaritzburg police.

“He asked me to identify myself. I told him my name was David Motsamayi. He nodded, and then, in a very proper way, he asked me a few questions about where I had been and where I was going….

I parried these without giving him much information. He seemed a bit irritated and then he said, ‘Ag, you’re Nelson Mandela, and this is Cecil Williams, and you are under arrest!’.”

On the 7th of November, Mandela was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.

His capture was one of the most historically significant moments in the struggle against apartheid.

If one thinks about it, this piece of road completely altered the history of South Africa.

The sculpture at the Capture Site, a collaboration between artist Marco Cianfanelli and Jeremy Rose, consists of 50 steel columns between 6 and 9.5 meters high along a thirty-meter length, which can be seen, from the road looking like a forest of steel poles.

The 50 linear vertical steel columns line up, creating the illusion of a flat two-dimensional image recreating Madiba’s portrait, metaphorically announcing his return to the site of his disappearance from world view.  The sculpture visually shifts throughout the day, with the sculpture itself being affected by the changing light behind and around it.

As the sculpture honours the life and contribution of Nelson Mandela, so we commemorate our freedom in the month of April.

On the 27th of April, we commemorate the day in 1994 when the first democratic elections were held in South Africa. Today we celebrate Freedom Day to mark the liberation of our country and its peoples from a long period of colonialism and apartheid to a democracy.

In order for us to become a democracy, many people paid the ultimate price, their lives, for us to be free.  And an integral part of our democracy is our Constitution.

So, what is a constitution? A constitution contains the highest law of a country. The Constitution is higher than the President and Cabinet, higher than the courts and higher than Parliament. Everything the state does must pass constitutional muster.

But it’s more than just keeping the state in check.  It also describes how the people of a country should treat each other, and what their rights and responsibilities are to each other.

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.

Our Constitution sets out many different types of rights, such as the right to health care services, to food, water and social security, the right to basic education, to adequate housing and an environment which is not harmful to our health or wellbeing. These are generally what we call our socio-economic rights.

The drafters of the Constitution took a very bold step to commit government to protect socio-economic rights by providing human settlements, education, water and so forth.

However, in some respects there is a contrast between lived reality and the ideals in the Constitution. It is important to stress that we cannot achieve an ideal society – as envisaged in the Constitution - overnight, it will take time.

The Constitution also provides for what we call civil and political rights, these rights are rights such as the right to life, to freedom of association, the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of movement and residence.

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.

Section 9 of the Constitution is an equality clause, which prohibits unfair discrimination on certain “listed grounds”.

This means that discrimination on the basis of one of the grounds listed in s 9(3) is presumed to be unfair discrimination, until the contrary is proved. The listed grounds are race, colour, ethnic origin, gender, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, marital status, age, disability, religion, conscience and belief, culture and language, birth and social origin.

Certain rights in the Constitution are particularly applicable to you.

For example, the Constitution says that every child has the right to a name and a nationality from birth and to family care or parental care, or to appropriate alternative care when removed from the family environment. A child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services and to be protected from maltreatment, neglect or abuse.

There is the right to basic education, and further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.

The state must make sure that all children are treated equally and are not discriminated against. It is important to remember that the ‘best interests of the child’ comes first. This is the benchmark against which everything to do with a child is measured.

We all have a responsibility to promote human rights and build a united, non-sexist, non-racial and democratic South Africa.  This means that ongoing constitutional education and human rights awareness are key.

We recently conducted a survey and the respondents were asked if they had heard of the Constitution of South Africa and if they had heard of the Bill of Rights in Chapter 2 of the Constitution.

We found that only slightly more than half (51%) of respondents had heard of either. Male respondents were more likely (55%) than their female counterparts (47%) to have heard of either the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

What this tells us is that there is still an enormous task ahead of us in raising levels of constitutional and human rights awareness. If persons or communities are not even aware of their rights, how can they possibly enforce them?

With this in mind, one of the main aims of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is to raise constitutional and human rights awareness.   One of these initiatives is the National Schools Moot Court Competition which we undertake in partnership with the DBE and the University of Pretoria.

The annual competition was established in 2011 to create greater understanding of the Constitution and human rights in South African schools.

Each School must select a team of 2 learners. Preferably one male and one female – however this is only a preference, not a requirement. Learners can download the competition material and team members must then write one essay for the Applicant and one essay for the Respondent and submit both essays before the submission deadline (28 July 2018 at 5pm). Teams can submit essays to schoolsmoot@up.ac.za.

The Top 10 Teams that wrote the best essays in each Province (based on the essay results) will be invited to participate in the Provincial Oral Rounds taking place between 25 August and 9 September 2018.

So, there is still time to enter and I hope to see a few teams from Howick High School.

To conclude, our Constitution reflects the hopes and aspirations of our nation. 

It speaks of the type of society that we want to create – one based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.

The Constitution remains the cornerstone of our democracy.  It is our collective pledge to protect our hard-won democratic rights and freedoms. 

But we can only build such as society with your help of each and every one of you here today.

I thank you.