Keynote Address by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, MP at the occasion of the Centenary Conference of the University of Fort Hare, 4 July 2016
Honourable Chancellor, Rev Makhenkesi Stofile
Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Ndzimande
Chair of University Council
Vice Chancellor Dr Vuyo Tom
Members of Council
Traditional Leaders present
Our Honourable Ambassadors
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great honour to be part of this historic occasion to mark the centenary of one of the oldest and prestigious institutions of higher learning in South Africa and the Continent.
Today’s occasion occurs during an important era in our constitutional democracy, the twentieth anniversary of our democratic Constitution. It is fitting that the theme of today’s occasion is centred on the Constitution and the Bill of Right and its role in the transformation of society and the State.
Let me, by way of introduction, give a brief reflection of the role of this university in the construction of the post 1994 constitutional dispensation which has been and will continue to be rehashed over and over again due to its significance in our constitutional discourse.
Our struggle for freedom and justice of more than three centuries of colonisation and apartheid was a protracted and painful one. Some the heroes and heroines of the struggle and many eminent persons in the long journey to freedom have passed through the doors of this revered university. These include Oliver Tambo, President Nelson Mandela, President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Robert Sobukwe of the Pan African Congress and Sizwe Kondile, a gallant fighter of Umkhonto weSizwe, whose remains we repatriated from Komartipoort near Mozambiquean border and buried at Freedom Park in Tshwane this past Friday on 1 July. Kondile, a former student of this university, was abducted and brutally murdered by the ruthless Vlakplaas squad during the cruel Apartheid. Startling evidence show that the perpetrators of this heinous crime were having braai and enjoying alcohol as his body was burning on wood fire overnight.
Notwithstanding the fact that both Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo were not as fortunate as some of their peers to complete their studies at this university, their lived experiences and immortal imprints they left here are engraved in the history of the university and the country as a whole. It is this history that portrays the kind of the education system that prevailed under the apartheid regime. The turmoil and instabilities that have engulfed our universities and other institutions of higher learning in the recent past is the manifestation of this sad history of inequality, segregation and exclusion that the Constitution seeks to redress.
The Constitution was a negotiated settlement which put to an end centuries of untold suffering and injustices that many believed that it was unachievable without a full blown civil war. The African Nation Congress, guided by its rich people-centred policies that had evolved over time, spearheaded the historic negotiations. These policies find reflection in, among others, the ANC’s Constitutional Principles of 1923, the African Claims of 1943, the Freedom Charter of 1955 and the recent National Development Plan adopted in 2011. Not only is the Constitution the Supreme law of the land but it is also transformative and revolutionary. It enjoins the State to build a united, non-racial, democratic, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa. This is a mammoth task which the State cannot overcome alone. It requires the involvement and contribution of a large constituency including the business sector and the academic institutions supported by the various stakeholders in the education sector.
We have just come out of the Youth Month of June with the prime focus on the commemoration of the 1976 Soweto uprisings. We all know that what started as a fight against the imposition of Afrikaans in the education system designed for Africans heightened the struggle against the apartheid government.
As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Constitution it is an opportune time that we take stock of the changes that have manifestly changed peoples’ lives. To highlight a few milestones we have achieved in the education sector in particular:
- there are today over 7 million learners in our no-fee schools, this is up from 5 million in 2009
- the number of children attending Grade R has more than doubled, moving from about 300 000 to more than 700 000 between 2003 and 2011. Government is providing meals to 9 million learners in 20 000 schools daily.
- in respect of higher education and training student enrolment at universities increased by 12 per cent from 837, 779 in 2009 to 938, 201 in 2012. Further Education and Training College enrolments increased from 345, 566 in 2010 to 657, 690 in 2013.
The Heher Commission of Inquiry appointed by the Honourable President to investigate the fees and funding model for higher education and training which I was responsible to set-up as a line function Ministry, will guide us on how to address challenges that are confronting the higher education sector.
In just under a month from today, on 3 August, South Africans will be going to the polls in the local government elections which is at the level where communities experience and experiment democracy in motion. As we do so let us remember our forebears and our fallen heroes who paid the ultimate price for us to enjoy the fruits of democracy today.
Universities are the reservoir of legal epistemology from where the jurists who later swell the ranks of attorneys, advocates, prosecutors, law advisers, magistrates and judges emerge. The extent to which transformation is realised within the various professions and the occupations across the justice value chain mirrors the quality of legal training and the skills base acquired during tutelage. I am aware that there are on-going discussions regarding the transformation of the law curriculum to address some of the concerns which have been raised regarding the LLB course content. Part of the transformation of the curriculum relates to language reform which a hindrance to access to justice. This is a matter that requires our urgent attention.
We have made great strides in the racial and gender transformation of the judiciary and the majority of the 238 judges, namely 155 are Black (generic). We however still lag behind with regard to the gender transformation as women constitute only 85 of the total number of judges.
The transformation of the legal profession is also on a slow pace. Only 9 098 of the 24, 177 practicing attorneys are women of which Africans are less than 2 000. Of the 2 641 practicing advocates who ply their trade through the constituent Bars of the General Bar Council, only 843 are Black (generic). This translates into the overwhelming number of White Senior Counsel compared to their Black counterparts. Only a mere 6 African women advocates have attained silk status.
I am hopeful that the Legal Forum on the Legal Practice and the profession at large will seize the opportunity to lead the desired change as envisaged by the Legal Practice Act. Universities must make their presence felt and raise their voice in this transformation trajectory.
Ladies and gentlemen
We will soon introduce legislation to address incidence of racial intolerance and hate speech following sporadic incidents that surfaced recently. The intended legislation will augment measures that are being implemented under the Department’s National Action Plan to combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance which is at advanced stage of development.
We also look forward to forging closer ties with the UNESCO Oliver Tambo Chair of Human Rights in our broader project on the transformation of the justice system. The location of the Chair at this university is of considerable significance and prestige especially for rural and communities of the Eastern Cape Province.
As I conclude, let me take this opportunity to extend our appreciation to the University of Forth Hare for taking part of the project on the assessment of the decisions of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Appeal which it undertook jointly with the Human Science Research Council. We are still studying the report which I will present to Cabinet for its guidance soon.
May the rich history of this university continue to inspire learners and scholars of today who face a different struggle to that which the class of Mandela and Tambo faced in their time. Theirs is not a struggle against apartheid and segregation, but of overcoming the legacy of inequality, of poverty, youth unemployment, substance abuse, gender based-violence, political intolerance and many other ills that threaten to erode the fruits our hard-earned democracy. It is only through education and higher education in particular, that we can rid ourselves of the baggage of the past and built a better South Africa and a better world.
It is through an unequivocal commitment to this goal that we will be able to live up to the words of the world statesman of all time, President Nelson Mandela, whose birth we will celebrate on the 18th of this month, when he said:
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
With this in mind universities and institutions of higher learning must keep pace with the changing world and strive to produce weapons that equip the youth of today to overcome the demands and challenges of the modern world.
As we celebrate the 20th birthday of our Constitution we can look back and take pride in what we have achieved, as a people and part of the family of nations.
I thank you.