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Welcome Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at the Final Round of the National Schools Moot Court Competition, held at the Constitutional Court, 7 October 2018

Programme Director,
Members of the judiciary,
Representatives of the University of Pretoria, the Foundation for Human Rights and the South African Human Rights Commission,
Officials from the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development,
And, most important, the learners, their parents and the educators who are joining us here today,

As you know, section 28 of the Bill of Rights in our Constitution declares that a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child, while section 29 provides for the right to education. 

Government’s National Development Plan has a vision for South Africa in 2030.

When it talks about education, it is a vision of our children having education of the highest quality, giving them life-changing skills and knowledge. Education is the door to success.

Government’s Medium Term Strategic Framework which was compiled in terms of the NDP identified 14 priorities outcomes and the very first outcome - Outcome 1 - is Quality Basic Education.

Today you will be arguing the case of Zama Mokgoro and her school blazer – and although that is a hypothetical case, there are – in real life, in our country today - many learners, just like Zama, who are fighting similar battles or being confronted by similar challenges. 

Whether it be about uniforms, fees, transport needed to get to school, documentation needed to register for the matric exams or safety in schools, there are a number of issues which could affect a person’s right to education. 

Earlier this year, Statistics SA released its General Household Survey for 2017 and it tells us a lot about our country’s learners and the right to education.

There were approximately 14 million learners at school in 2017.

Just over a fifth (21%) of premature school leavers - those who drop out of school - mentioned a lack of money as the reason, while 18% left due to poor academic performance.

Although 9% of individuals left their studies as a result of family commitments, like getting married, minding children or pregnancy, it is noticeable that a much larger percentage of girls than boys offered this as a reason (18,5% compared to 0,4%). Just over 5% of girls in the age group 14–19 years were pregnant.

Furthermore, 68% of learners walked to school, while only 8% used private vehicles.

Although corporal punishment at school is not allowed, some 6% of learners were still reportedly experiencing corporal punishment at school in 2017.

The data also suggests that our no fee school system and other funding initiatives are beginning to show improved results.

The percentage of learners who are benefiting from being exempted from paying tuition fees increased from only 0,4% in 2002 to 66,0% in 2017.

Over three-quarters (77%) of learners who attended public schools benefited from school feeding schemes.

So, as you can see, there are a variety of different issues affecting our learners – issues which all in some way have an impact on their education.

That is why it is so important for learners in all our schools to know their constitutional rights and why we think that human rights awareness is so necessary.

This is one of the major goals of the National Schools Moot Court Competition, and it’s a competition which has gone from strength to strength.

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

Learners are given an opportunity to explore various sections of the Bill of Rights and also to develop their own research, writing and oral advocacy skills as they endeavour to come to grips with relevant constitutional issues.

The High Schools International Moot Court Competition takes place every two years and the winning team for the year it is held participates in this contest against a number of other countries where they prepare an oral argument based on various international treaties and conventions.

In 2016 the international event was held in The Hague in the Netherlands.  The South African team comprised 8 pupils from various schools ranging from rural to former model C schools, with Claire Rankin and Clara-Marie Macheke from Springfield Convent in the Western Cape taking the top spot after beating Team USA.

We believe that even more learners should be encouraged to participate in the competition so as to promote constitutional imperatives and the Global Human Rights Education agenda.

We are hopeful that next year, Grade 10s in all government schools will participate in the essay writing stage and thus have an opportunity to end up here as you have.

With schools being viewed as catalysts for social change, this programme becomes relevant in instilling and educating young people, and thus also broader society, on constitutional values, human rights and active citizenry. 

The Competition has over the last seven years proven itself to be a powerful tool to popularize the Constitution and to ensure that young people and their communities have a better understanding of the way in which this foundational document of our democracy works.

Such a moot, reaching all 4 million secondary learners, generation after generation, can play a central role in deepening our constitutional values as a critical time in our country's history. 

As you know this year the competition was open for all Grade 10 and 11 learners.

The hypothetical case and the resource pack were made available in February this year with the deadline for the submission of the essays being 27 July.

In August we announced the teams selected to participate in the Provincial Oral Rounds, with the National Oral Rounds having started earlier this week.  

The National Schools Moot is collaboration between a number of role-players – from the University of Pretoria, the Foundation for Human Rights, the South African Human Rights Commission and the Departments of Basic Education and Justice and Constitution Development. 

From the side of government we want to thank everyone who made this year’s event possible.

I also want to encourage legal practitioners in our country to get involved and mentor a team in next year’s competition. Legal practitioners can consider serving as a coach to the learners of a school their vicinity and help the learners who want to participate in the competition to do so. 

This will be extremely beneficial to learners from those schools which normally do not participate in such events get the benefit of a legal practitioner to help them research and prepare their essays, and if they are selected for the further rounds to help them to develop the skills to speak in a court of law with confidence. 

I am informed that lawyers of all backgrounds who have in the past done such coaching - advocates, attorneys, judges, magistrates, prosecutors and others - have found it to be an enormously rewarding experience, and an opportunity to make a direct contribution towards making our democracy work. 

To all the learners who participated, congratulations on what you have already achieved in this competition.

You, and your schools, can feel very proud of what you have achieved.

So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I want to wish the finalists all the very best of luck and we look forward to hearing your arguments.

 

Thank you.