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Keynote Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at a Learner Dialogue on the Constitution, held at Jim Van Tonder High School Hall, Bethal, Mpumalanga, 15 September 2017

Programme Director, Mr Mabena
Principal of Jim van Tonder High School, Mrs Kruger
Members of the magistracy
Representatives from various government departments
Learners and educators from Mzinoni Secondary, Ikhethelo High, A D Nkosi Secondary, MD Coovadia Combined, Langelihle, Vukanini and Jim Van Tonder High

Good morning, goeie more, sanibonani.

September is a very important month. It is the month we celebrate our heritage and also honour men and women who fought against apartheid.

Our freedom was not free. The freedoms what we all enjoy today came at a very high price. It was made possible by the sacrifices of thousands of people.

Ons sou nie vandag ‘n Grondwet gehad as dit nie was vir die bydraes en opofferinge van mense in ons geskiedenis nie.

Heritage Month is an opportunity to learn more about the sacrifices made by our struggle icons in the past so that we can live in a free and democratic South Africa today.

Those who sacrificed for our freedom have laid the path for our constitutional democracy founded on the principles of human dignity and equal rights for everyone.

A foremost advocate for a democratic South Africa was Oliver Tambo, therefore it is most fitting that we are celebrating his centenary this year.

OR Tambo mobilised the international community to support our struggle against apartheid. He also led key processes from the Harare Declaration to the adoption of the Constitution.

Many of you will know who Steve Biko is.  

He was one of the one struggle icons and died in police custody on September 12, 1977. He paid the ultimate price – his life – so that all people in South Africa can be free.

Together we must continue to build on the legacy of Steve Biko, OR Tambo and countless others.

Here, closer to home, you also have many people who contributed to the freedom we have today.

Gert Sibande was a leader among farm workers in the eastern Transvaal. He was a well-known activist and one of the accused in the Treason Trail of 1956 to 1961.

Gert Sibande – who is known in this region as the “Lion of the East” - was born in the Ermelo and although he received no formal schooling he taught himself to read.  He helped to expose the terrible conditions of Africans working here, on farms, in the Bethal area.

He was charged with treason in 1956 alongside Nelson Mandela and various other struggle activists, but was acquitted in 1961. While exiled in Swaziland, he assisted members of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, to travel from Mozambique through Swaziland back to South Africa.

The museum that you visited this morning is named after Nomoya Masilela, a student from Mzinoni High who, in the mid-1980s, was killed during a student protest in the township.

Another activist from here, Nokuthula Simelane, disappeared after being abducted by apartheid security police. She was a link between freedom fighters in South Africa and Swaziland.  

In early September 1983 she was kidnapped from the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg. She refused to become an informant and is believed to have been tortured to death on a farm near Thabazimbi. While eight Soweto Security Branch operatives applied for amnesty at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for her detention and torture, no one took responsibility for her disappearance. The whereabouts of her remains are a mystery to this day. A life-size statue of her was erected in recognition of her contribution to the freedom struggle. A number of police are currently standing trial for her murder.

Baie van hierdie mense – mense hier van Bethel en die omgewing – het hulle lewens opgeoffer sodat ons vandag vry kan wees en in ‘n demokratiese land kan bly.

Ons land se Grondwet beskerm ons vryhede en ons regte.

So why is a Constitution so important? Ungabuza ukuthi kungani uMthetho Sisekelo ubalulekile ngakanga?

Today, every person is entitled to fundamental human rights. These are not privileges that can be withdrawn or things that one has to qualify for.

They are rights and belong to all of us simply because we are human beings. Our Constitution promises that to each and every one of us.

Namhlanje wonke umuntu unelungelo lakhe, leli lungelo alifundelwa futhi akusiyona into oyiphiwayo kodwa yilungelo wonke umuntu abanalo ngoba engumuntu ophilayo. Umthetho Sisekelo yiwona oqinisekisa ukuthi amalungelo ethu singabantu avikelekile.

Many of you may know a bit about your rights.

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.

It 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.

The Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. The Bill of Rights in Chapter 2 of the Constitution consists of an important set of human rights that aims to define the rights of the people, provide to whom and how the rights apply, and regulate when and how the rights may be limited.

Children, of course, have special rights in our Constitution.

If you look in section 28, the Constitution tells us that every child has, amongst others, the right to a name and nationality from birth, the right to family or parental care, to basic nutrition, shelter, health care services and social services. They have the right to be protected from neglect and abuse.

And there are also other rights that are extremely important, such as, in your case, the right to education.

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.

But we can only do so with your help.

Having rights, also means respecting the rights of others. It means having rights and having responsibilities. You can exercise your rights, as long as it doesn’t impact or infringe on the rights of other people.

It means thinking about the wellbeing of the person next to you.

Many of us would have seen the inspiring photo earlier this week of two boys, one black and one white, boys who’ve never met one another, running in a cross country race. Mpho Mitchell, who is 16, collapsed due to heat exhaustion during the SA cross-country championships. He was a short distance from the finish line. One of the other athletes, Ronen Oosthuizen, stopped and turned around, helped Mpho to his feet and supported him to the finish line, so that they both could complete the 6km race. 

Often in life, if we help each other up, it means we can all be successful.

This is something that we must all do in our country.

In the spirit of our late icon, OR Tambo, and many others who fought for democracy, let us join together to create a united and prosperous nation.

Our country is diverse – there are many different languages, many different religions, many different cultures and different races. Together we must build a nation that encourages diversity and respect and celebrates its heritage.

Our diversity is our strength and allows us to draw on the heritage and culture of all South Africans.

Our Constitution is precious, because many people died in events that lead to its birth.

I want to encourage you to read the Constitution, to see what it says, and to learn more about human rights.

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 in August and unfortunately there were only 7 teams entered from Mpumalanga – so next year I hope to see at least two teams from each of the schools here today.

I spoke earlier of Steve Biko.

In a letter that he wrote to his family shortly before his death, he explains that his family suffered because of his work in the struggle for freedom. He writes -

I’ve devoted my life to see equality for blacks, and at the same time, I’ve denied the needs of my family. Please understand that I take these actions, not out of selfishness or arrogance, but to preserve a South Africa worth living in for blacks and whites.” 

The Constitution guarantees us that promise of a country worth living in - for all of us.

Baie dankie, ngiyabonga, thank you.