Message from the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP to the learners of O R Tambo Secondary School, 29 March 2017
Good morning to all the learners and education of OR Tambo Secondary School.
Your school is privileged to carry the name of one of our greatest leaders, OR Tambo.
This year is important because we commemorate the centenary of the birth of Oliver Tambo, that’s why 2017 is themed “The Year of Oliver Reginald Tambo: Unity in Action Together Moving South Africa Forward”.
We are reminded of Oliver Tambo’s words, when he said: "We have a vision of South Africa in which black and white shall live and work together as equals in conditions of peace and prosperity."
I want to wish you all a warm welcome to our Constitutional Learners’ Programme.
As I have to be in Parliament this morning, I am unfortunately not able to be there with you as we celebrate human rights in your school today, but I send my very best wishes to you all.
As you know, On 21 March 1960, the communities of Sharpeville and Langa townships, embarked on a protest march to march protest against pass laws. The apartheid police shot and killed 69 of the protesters at Sharpeville and three people at Langa. The tragedy came to be known as the Sharpeville Massacre and it exposed the apartheid government’s deliberate violation of human rights to the world.
The democratic government declared March 21 Human Rights Day to commemorate and honour those who fought for our liberation and the rights we enjoy today.
Therefore, the month of March marks “Human Rights Month” in South Africa.
All of you will also know that yesterday we lost one of our greatest struggle heroes, Ahmed Kathrada, or Uncle Kathy, as we call him.
As our country mourns the passing of Uncle Kathy, our national flag will be flown at half-mast at all government buildings until the evening of the official memorial service.
Ahmed Kathrada was only 10 years old when he started distributing political pamphlets. He became actively involved in politics at an early age, joining a non-racial youth club run by the Young Communist League when he was 12.
At the time, there were different schools for different race groups. He was Indian, so since could not be educated in the “European” or “African” schools in his area, so had to be sent to live with his aunt in Johannesburg so that he could go to school there.
At the age of 17, he left school to work for the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council in opposition to the so-called Ghetto Act, which aimed to restrict the rights of Indians.
In 1955, he was was one of the organisers of the Congress of the People in Kliptown, where the Freedom Charter was adopted.
He was charged with high treason in 1956, but was acquitted.
He went underground in 1962 after he was subjected to house arrest for 13 hours a day, as well as over weekends and public holidays. He began attending secret meetings at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, which was the underground headquarters of the ANC.
Later the apartheid security forces raided Liliesleaf Farm. This lead to the well-known Rivonia Trial. Along with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni, Uncle Kathy was sentenced to life imprisonment, with hard labour.
He spent 26 years and 3 months in prison‚ 18 of which were on Robben Island.
And he became the first prisoner on Robben Island to obtain a degree. While in prison he obtained four university degrees in total.
His is a life dedicated to the struggle for freedom, for human rights and for non-racialism.
Today we are free because of the sacrifices Uncle Kathy, and others, made for our freedom.
He inspires all of us to do the same – to uphold the human rights of others.
We launch our Constitutional Learners’ Programme at your school today in his memory.
The Constitutional Leaners Programme aims to educate learners about human rights and about the spirit, values of our human rights as enshrined in the Constitution. It aims to uphold the culture of human rights in the learning environment and to encourage learners’ engagement on Human rights topics in schools. I hope to see you all enter our National Schools Moot Court Competition this year.
Please study your Constitutions and treasure it. Share it with you families and with your communities.
And tell people about their human rights.
Together we move South Africa forward.