Keynote Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP at a Youth Dialogue on Constitutional Education, Polokwane Correctional Facility, 23 June 2017
Programme Director, Ms Tladi
The Correctional Services Area Commissioner, Mr Mashamba
The Regional Head of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Adv Sonti
Representatives of the Community Advice and Law Centre, the South African National Council on Alcoholism, the National Youth Development Agency and the Small Enterprise Development Agency
Representatives from government departments and civil society organisations
Ladies and gentlemen,
And our special guests, the youth here today
The year 2017 is being celebrated as the year of Oliver Reginald Tambo. This struggle and liberation icon would have turned 100 years old this year.
June, as we know, is celebrated as Youth Month in South Africa, with a specific focus on 16 June, which is also known as Youth Day.
OR Tambo valued the youth. Many know his famous words, when he said:
“The children of any nation are its future. A country, a movement, a person that does not value its youth and children does not deserve its future.”
We value our youth.
Government initiatives such as no-fee schools has led to a significant increase of persons attending at an educational institution. The number of black Africans attending an educational institution increased from 10,5 million in 1996 to 14,8 million in 2016.
Statistics SA tell us that the number of youth – in other words, persons aged 25–34 years - with at least Bachelor’s degrees has doubled within a period of 20 years, from 1996 to 2016.
But we also know that the youth are vulnerable.
The Vulnerable Groups Indicator Report which was released earlier this year tells us that here in Limpopo, in 2015, 14% of boys and 12% of girls under 18 were orphans.
Some 17% of children in Limpopo live in a household without an employed adult. In 2015, there were 423 000 youth-headed households in Limpopo. We have nearly 20 million youth beneficiaries of social grants countrywide.
In Limpopo in 2015 there were 21 000 children aged 15 who had not yet completed Grade 7. The main reason given as to why children in our country stopped going to school was poor academic performance.
More worrying is the 10% who said that they don’t go to school because education was not useful. This is a mindset that we have to change.
Why do we value our youth? And why do we celebrate Youth Month?
Youth Month pays tribute to the school learners who lost their lives during the 16 June 1976 uprising in Soweto. This year marks the 41st anniversary of the Soweto uprisings.
On 16 June 1976, more than 15 000 students gathered at Orlando West Secondary School with the intention of participating in a peaceful march to the nearby Orlando Stadium. The demonstration had been planned in protest against the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction at schools.
However, the police and armed forces responded to the protest violently and many were killed and wounded.
The shootings in Soweto sparked a massive uprising that soon spread to more than 100 urban and rural areas throughout South Africa.
This tragedy became a rallying point that inspired a nation and a people to rise up against the brutal apartheid system.
The youth of 1976 were protesting for better education, for the rights of children to learn and for freedom.
This is what our Constitution has achieved.
There have been massive social and economic changes since the dawn of democracy. Our nation has been transformed since 1994, income and employment levels have increased, education levels are up and many millions of people now have access to water, electricity, sanitation and housing.
So what is a Constitution and why is it important?
The Constitution is the uppermost law of the land. No other law or government action can go against the provisions of the Constitution.
Everyone in South Africa, including government, and all laws are subject to and must follow the Constitution.
A Constitution is a body of fundamental principles according to which a State is to be governed. It sets out how all the elements of government are organised and contains rules about what power is wielded, who wields it and over whom it is wielded in the governing of a country.
It defines the rights and duties of citizens, and the mechanisms that keep those in power in check.
It says that the Republic of South Africa is one, sovereign, democratic state founded on human dignity, equality, rights and freedoms.
Everything we do, we must measure against 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.
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.
Two of the rights in the Bill of Rights which are very relevant to you are the right to education and the rights of children.
There have been some interesting cases in our Constitutional Court involving learners, such as a case which confirms the prohibition of corporal punishment in schools. There have been cases dealing with the rights of pregnant learners to return to school.
Section 28 of the Constitution also lists the rights of children.
There are Children’s Courts in our country. A Children’s Court is a special court which deals with issues affecting children. It takes care of children who are in need of protection and makes decisions on behalf of children who have been abandoned, neglected or abused.
Where children are in conflict with the law, Section 28 requires that the best interests of the child be of paramount importance in every decision taken in relation to a child and it sets out clear principles relating to the detention of children, including that detention should be a measure of last resort and used for the shortest appropriate period of time.
Further, children should be kept separately from adults in detention and treated in a manner, and kept in conditions that take account of the child’s age.
We also have a special law for children who are in trouble with the law, which is called the Child Justice Act, which focuses on restorative justice.
The Constitution, in the Bill of Rights in Chapter 2, tells us how important human dignity, equality and freedom are.
But we must remember that the Constitution is not some magic “fix-it-all”, which suddenly and overnight brought an end to all the challenges that our country faces. It will take time. We still face many challenges, like poverty and inequality.
We cannot rest until all South Africans enjoy the fruits of our liberation and democracy.
We must continue to strive for a society that is more socially and economically inclusive.
So what can you do? The class of 1976 played a key role in our struggle – we must preserve their legacy.
Tell people about the Constitution – empower yourselves and empower other people.
Our youth were at the forefront of the fight against apartheid. The Class of 1976 exposed the brutality of the apartheid regime to the world and ignited resistance around the country.
Our young people of today must help to keep their legacy alive by taking advantage of opportunities to build our country. Participate in democratic structures and, as soon as you are old enough to vote, take part in processes like elections.
I also want to repeat what Sifiso Mtsweni, who is the chairperson of the NYDA, recently said. He said -
“… I think it’s important that as young people we also need to be organised beyond political formations – whether in sports, whether in arts and culture, in whatever aspect. Young people need to be organised so that their voice is able to be coherent. One of the first things that we’ll be doing ourselves is to convene a Youth Indaba with organised and unorganised young people.”
Get involved. The Youth Month theme for 2017 is “The year of OR Tambo: Advancing Youth Economic Empowerment.”
Some of the institutions here today are from bodies which can provide you as young people with substantial information on how to better your lives through skills development programs that are being offered.
Representatives from the NYDA and others are here today – ask them, get the information, get involved.
Other bodies are here to help if you, your friends, or your family members are battling with issues of substance abuse. They are here to help you.
It might sound like a boring cliché, and something you have probably heard a thousand times before, but the future really is in your hands.
The Class of ’76 has left it to you to continue their legacy. There is an African saying that says it's the young trees that make up the forest.
Perhaps African revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral, gave us all the best advice, when he said:
“Learn from life, learn from our people, learn from books, learn from the experience of others. Never stop learning.”
Please study your Constitutions and treasure it.
Share it with you families and with your communities.
Learn about your human rights.
And tell other people about their human rights.
Never stop learning.
I thank you