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Keynote address delivered by Minister Ronald Lamola (MP) at the Mpumalanga Provincial Constitutional Rights Conference delivered on 17 March 2022, University of Mpumalanga. The Supremacy of The Constitution: Reflecting on the role of the Judiciary after 25 Years of Constitutionalism.

The Constitution:Reflecting on the role of the Judiciary after 25 Years of Constitutionalism.

Premier of Mpumalanga Province, Ms Refilwe Mtsweni- Tsipane,

Judge President of the High Court of South Africa sitting in Mpumalanga Province, Justice Frans Legodi,
Regional court President, Ms Engelbreigt
Chief Whip of the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature, Fidel Mlombo,

Director- General of the Department of Justice & Constitutional Development who is also the Programme Director, Adv Doc Mashabane,

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

I am deeply honoured to be back here again at the University of Mpumalanga.

The last time we gathered here for the 25 year review of our constitutional democracy we could not foresee the impending pandemic of COVID-19 and its devastating impact.

Nonetheless, we stand here slightly confident that we have seen the worst of the pandemic. What remains now is for us to work out the modalities to live with the pandemic.

Vaccinating remains an important tool of progress against the pandemic. As a nation, we have borne witness to the fact those of who have vaccinated stand a good chance of not been hospitalised with COVID-19.

Ladies and Gentlemen, and Distinguished Guests,

It is my privilege to gather with you and Reflect on the Role of the Judiciary after 25 Years of Constitutionalism on the cusp of Human Rights Day. Incidentally, Anti-Racism Week also draws to a close this week. The anti-racism week, which started on March 14 and ends of March 21, encourages all sectors of society including the international community, to find ways of mobilising against racism and racial inequalities.

We know all too well that despite the advent of democracy and all its progressive results, the evils of racism still persist.

This problem is not uniquely South African, in recent days, we have seen how it is seemingly easy for nations in Europe to accommodate refugees with blonde hair and blue eyes, and yet it seems near impossible to accommodate refugees from Africa and the Middle East respectively.

This is nothing short of racial discrimination and we should not mince our words. As we prepare to mark and celebrate Human Rights Day on Monday, the world will also mark and celebrate International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

This is day on the international calendar, is marked wholly on the basis of South Africans as it is observed on the day the apartheid regime, opened fire in Sharpville and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid "pass laws" in 1960.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is followed by the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

The Apartheid Convention was the ultimate step in the condemnation of apartheid as it not only declared that apartheid was unlawful because it violated the Charter of the United Nations, but in addition, it declared apartheid to be criminal and a crime against humanity.

Most interestingly, the Apartheid Convention was adopted by the General Assembly on 30 November 1973, by 91 votes in favour, four against, the four against being Portugal, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. There we also 26 abstentions.

At this current juncture, the Rome Statute which creates the International Criminal Court, is one of treaties which South Africa has ratified which recognizes the crimes against humanity. And it is precisely in this arena where our Judges have reminded us about the Preamble of the Constitution which says ‘[b]uild a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations’.

From being an international pariah, South Africa has sought in our democratic state, to play a full role as an accepted member of the international community.
Perhaps former Chief Justice Ngcobo put it best when he said,

‘Our Constitution reveals a clear determination to ensure that the Constitution and South African law are interpreted to comply with international law, in particular international human-rights law … These provisions of our Constitution demonstrate that international law has a special place in our law which is carefully defined by the Constitution.’

We cannot take our rightful place as a sovereign state in a family of nations if we choose to define ourselves outside of multilateral institutions when serious conflicts arise in the world. To this end, it is encouraging that the International Criminal Court has active probes of war crimes in Palestine, Afghanistan.

For a human right centered world to prevail around the world, we need to find lasting solutions, through dialogue, not the barrel of a gun.

Justice Legodi, let me also add this, it is not judges who are required to uphold the rule of law and sustain our democracy, it is us the citizens and along with those who clothe with electoral responsibility.

The various incidents of racism, lawlessness, and attacks on black African nationals and sometimes Asian foreign nationals, show that as a nation, our humanity is at an all time low.

Law enforcement must enforce the law relating to illegal immigration and employment law not society resorting to self help.

Law enforcement agencies are equally not trusted as upright citizens bemoans of the rule of law in our communities. This is of course because of their own doing, small acts of impropriety lead to big acts of collusion with criminal forces.

In more ways than one, this young democracy is being suffocated by corruption. The corrective action does not lie in citizens taking the law into their hands, or conducing militant operations in our communities.

The answer lies in citizens confronting corruption directly where it arises. We can confront corruption by being tolerant of those amongst us who live of bribes, and criminality. Criminality is the absence of humanity.

It is not only judges who are Constitutional beings, but all citizens are required to be Constitutional beings. Recently, President Ramaphosa in accordance with Section 174 (3) of the Constitution, exercised his constitutional prerogative to appoint the new chief justice of the republic, Justice Raymond Zondo. President Ramaphosa said, “The Chief Justice is a guardian of our Constitution and the laws adopted by the freely elected representatives of the people. The Chief Justice stand as the champion of the rights of all South Africans and bears responsibility for ensuring equal access to justice".

The judiciary has over the years acquitted itself with distinction in enforcing the rule of law and protecting the vulnerable.

It is also true that we need an economy that grows at rates which enable the employment of people with various skills across various sectors. Equally the lack of economic emancipation is also evidenced by the World Bank’s report which shows that South Africa’s inequality is racial in nature.

This inevitably shows us that the Constitutional demand of equality is a foundational value which underpins the nation’s constitutional democracy.

we may have to concede that the legendary Rastafarian singer, Peter Tosh was right when he said:

But ain't gonna be no peace 'Till men get the equal rights, Equal rights and justice. We need equal rights.

With that said Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish you well in your deliberations as you assess the fruits of the Constitution in 25 years. Some of them are bitter and some of them are sweet. As leaders of society, we owe it to citizens and our forbears, a long-term positive impact towards constitutionalism.

I thank you!