Maverick Citizen

OUR RIGHTS, OUR POWER

As long as there is injustice anywhere there can never be sustainable peace, says Thuli Madonsela

As long as there is injustice anywhere there can never be sustainable peace, says Thuli Madonsela
The Human Rights Festival called on all people to 'own and live the Constitution'. (Photo: brookings.edu / Wikipedia)

‘We would not have this Constitution if it wasn’t for people acting collectively… Unless we seize our power as a people, the Constitution will remain just a document,’ constitutional lawyer tells audience at the opening event of the Human Rights Festival.

On Human Rights Day, advocate Thuli Madonsela and Miss South Africa Ndavi Nokeri took part in a discussion facilitated at Constitution Hill as part of the Human Rights Festival

“The “We” is the most important part of the Constitution,” constitutional lawyer Lwando Xaso told attendees in her opening remarks. She said the “We, the people part of South Africa’s Constitution” was significant because it showed a recognition of the people’s power and that “we would not have this Constitution if it wasn’t for people acting collectively… Unless we seize our power as a people, the constitution will remain just a document.”

“Constitutionalism is a dialogue, a conversation, the Constitution is not the stopping of struggle.”

Xaso also reminded those in attendance that the event was taking place as the country commemorated the 69 lives lost in Sharpeville in 1960 and that in December 1996 former president Nelson Mandela chose Sharpeville as the site for the signing of the new Constitution. 

Madonsela said that as long as there is injustice anywhere there can never be sustainable peace, and that she first started cultivating a sense of justice as a child and from a “selfish” standpoint when she saw the difference in treatment she received compared with her brother. 

“I used to wonder, why is my brother, who is in the same grade as me, able to come home, take off his school uniform and go play while I had to cook, clean and wash both our clothes.” She said that this was when her gender consciousness formed as she started to notice that in society women and girls seemed to bear the brunt of the work.

Acknowledging privilege

Ndavi Nokeri – who is well known for saying: “I want every girl and woman to know they belong in any room” – told the audience that she understood the “we” in the Constitution to be about acknowledging the stories of individuals. 

Growing up, she had been quite aware that people were exposed to different opportunities and that it was important to acknowledge one’s privilege then seeing where you could step in and make a difference as opposed to leaving it to an external party to step in.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Human rights in South Africa – rhetoric vs reality

“We cannot say that we’re moving forward as a nation while half the country is left behind,” said Nokeri, pointing to the crime rate which she said was informed by the country’s inequality. 

Madonsela explained that there are various levels of justice and that it is okay to care about justice for the self first “because you can’t give what you don’t have”. However, it had been while she was at the Department of Justice that she started working on issues of justice beyond the self and led the drafting of the Equality Act.


Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations


Madonsela also spoke about the importance of the concept of Ubuntu and how solidarity was central to this. “Many of us have received a better set of cards and should leverage that privilege to help others,” she said, citing the examples of Charlotte Maxeke, Pixley ka Seme and Olive Schreiner. 

More than a textbook

Talking about education, Nokeri emphasised that this was not just about what is in a textbook, but about things that affect students such as their home environment, school infrastructure and the socioeconomic conditions they live in. 

“What I have seen is that when students don’t have opportunities to actually develop their skills and their intelligence then they [can’t] reach their potential.” When students felt “seen” they performed better because they felt that they were of “value”.

Miss South Africa Ndavi Nokeri and advocate Thuli Madonsela during the ‘We The People In Conversation’ on Human Rights Day at Constitution Hill on 21 March 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape)

Nokeri said she had noticed across the world that one of the ways in which women are kept “at the bottom of the pyramid is by being denied education”. 

Read more in Daily Maverick:Human Wrongs On Human Rights Day

Madonsela said the education system was key to the well-being of the country because it built capability, and that it was important that young people recognise their “god-given” value and for excellence to be recognised.

Ten-year-old Siyavuya Mabece, who wrote a book titled Enough! Stop bullying, stole the show when she asked Nokeri what she was doing in her work with schools to stop bullying. Nokeri replied that bullying needed to be addressed on both sides by finding the reasons that children bullied each other, and instilling the values of self-awareness and self-confidence.

Sogezo Mabece, Miss South Africa Ndavi Nokeri, Costitution Hill Trust CEO Vanessa September, Siyavuya Mabece and advocate Thuli Madonsela at Constitution Hill on Human Rights Day. (Photo: Gallo Images / Oupa Bopape)

 

Closing the discussion, Madonsela said Siyavuya was a shining example of the possibilities and opportunities that were afforded by the Constitution, as well as a reflection of the state of human rights in South Africa. 

“We have got political freedom, we’ve got legal freedom. When somebody says, those who came before us delivered nothing, this Constitution means nothing’, I will tell them next time, ‘No, Siyavuya Mabece would not be able to write a book and have it at an event like this and have grown-ups listen to her if it wasn’t for the freedoms that we gained.” DM/MC

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Epsilon Indi says:

    Everybody talks so much about Ubuntu but in practice no one seems to follow its precepts. I don’t see dicta from Ubuntu being applied anywhere, people talk about it but they don’t appear to practice it. I don’t see the doctrine of Ubuntu being applied, instead I see corruption, I see embezzlement, I see dishonesty, I see selfishness, I see greed, I see depravity, I see graft. Is Ubuntu even real, does anyone actually live by it, or do people only give it lip service ? It does not appear as though Ubuntu is the centre of people’s lives, rather it appears to be a theoretical construct, that, like the ANC, promises much but delivers nothing,

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

X

This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.


Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Download the Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox.

+ Your election day questions answered
+ What's different this election
+ Test yourself! Take the quiz