Lize-Mari Doubell and Christiaan Van Schalkwyk, LLM Candidates, Faculty of Law

The discourse around human rights often takes place at a level of abstraction that is divorced from the lived reality of many South Africans. Law students are also confronted by the lack of engagement with human rights by legal practice, despite the fundamental human rights guaranteed in the Constitution. These were the main themes which emerged from the human rights panel discussion hosted by the HF Oppenheimer Chair in Human Rights Law and the Law Faculty’s Transformation Committee. Titled, A Future in Human Rights? students of Stellenbosch University were exposed to panellists who have achieved significant victories for human rights in vastly different areas of the law. However, the common thread which unites these achievements is the positive impact on the lives of ordinary South Africans.

Professor Sandra Liebenberg described the panellists as individuals who have made creative use of the Constitution to advance human rights. For the panellists, a future in human rights for aspiring students means embracing your ideals and being cognisant of the fluid nature of a career in law. “Bring who you are to your job,” was one piece of advice offered to students by the panellist Precillar Moyo, an attorney for the Equal Education Law Centre based in Khayelitsha. Being a candidate attorney at a corporate law firm can be a source of invaluable experience, but it does not mean that one is barred from pursuing human rights as a later career path. This was especially the case for panellist Odette Geldenhuys, who pursued various other career paths including documentary film making, before establishing ProBono.org much later in her career. She now works for Webber Wentzel’s Pro Bono department where she continues to fight for the advancement of human rights. All the panellists emphasised that litigation should be a last resort, and should form part of a broader campaign of human right advocacy.

The concrete meaning we must ascribe to fundamental rights such as equality and human dignity do not take place in a vacuum. Panellist, Nomzamo Zondo, who is the Director of Litigation at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) in Johannesburg, shared her experience of litigating on behalf of evicted persons. For Ms Zondo, equality and human dignity became more than litigation tools when acting on behalf of evicted persons. These rights must reflect the lived reality of those affected and it is the duty of human rights lawyers to engage with peoples and communities to understand how these rights can work for ordinary people according to Ms Zondo. She reminded the audience that, “human rights lawyers account to the people” and that “mobilised communities will change the world”. Ms Zondo is also particularly fascinated in the politics of protest, and believes that more can be done in terms of the Regulation of Gatherings Act to ensure that it gives meaningful effect to the constitutional right of demonstration enshrined in section 17 of the Bill of Rights.  She also commented that the police should gravitate from the role of enforces, to facilitators of the right to protest.

The panel also underscored that there is potential in the open-ended nature of human rights to address contemporary and future injustices. Equality and human dignity illuminate all other areas of the law, and should be a basis for any successful human rights lawyer. In this regard, Ms Mudarikwa drew the students’ attention to the involvement of the LRC in a complex case where intersex individuals were refused an application to change their sex because their current marriages were heterosexual in terms of the Marriage Act. Ms Mudarikwa emphasised that value-based legal reasoning should play an important part in legal education and the profession.

An interesting debate of the evening revolved around the balance of rights in the Constitution. Specifically, a question was raised about the freedom to religion and same sex marriages. Ms Mudarikwa stated that there is no hierarchy of rights within the Bill of Rights. She emphasised that the law is secular and that these rights do not compete against each other, but must rather be harmonised. This discussion was prompted by the recent decision of Gaum and Others v Van Rensburg and Others where it was ruled that the church cannot discriminate against same-sex couples who wish to marry within the church. Ms Moyo disagreed with Ms Mudarikwa on this matter as she stated that rights do clash and that it is the judiciary who is responsible to balance and limit them. She said that the matter was particularly complicated due to an impossible choice that is given to people: to either choose obeying religious values, or the rights and values in the Constitution. The audience was engrossed in this discussion, which raised important issues regarding how rights should be balanced and reconciled under the Constitution. As with most cases, there is no easy solution and the panel agreed that they would not be surprised if the case was appealed.

The evening ended with further networking and discussion over refreshments. The law students who were in attendance left with many new ideas and changed perceptions about the advancement of human rights. With the timing of the event being two days before National Human Rights’ Day, students were given a better understanding of how far we had come in South Africa, as well as what the future of human rights in the country looks like. Most importantly, everyone in attendance was exposed to contemporary human rights problems that ordinary South Africans face and what the role of lawyers can be to advance the equal enjoyment of constitutional rights.

Human Rights Day Panel Discussion, from left to right: Prof Sandra Liebenberg, HF. Oppenheimer Chair in Human Rights Law; Ms Nomzamo Zondo, SERI; Ms Odette Geldenhuys, Webber Wentzel; Ms Precillar Moyo, Equal Education Law Centre; Ms Mandivavarira Mudarikwa, Legal Resources Centre; Prof Bradley Slade, Chair, Law Faculty Transformation Committee.

Photo credit: Ms Nondu Phenyane, Faculty of Law

Lize-Mari Doubell en Christiaan Van Schalkwyk, LLM kandidate, Fakulteit Regsgeleerdheid

Die diskoers oor menseregte vind dikwels plaas op ʼn abstrakte akademiese vlak wat die realiteit van gewone Suid-Afrikaners se lewens misken. Regsstudente word ook gekonfronteer met die realiteit dat die regsberoep nie menseregte as integraal beskou nie, ten spyte daarvan dat fundamentele menseregte in die Grondwet gewaarborg word. Hierdie was die hoof temas van die menseregte paneelbespreking wat georganiseer is deur die HF Oppenheimer Leerstoel in Menseregte en die Transformasie Komitee van die Regsfakulteit. Die onderwerp van die bespreking was ʼn Toekoms in Menseregte? Studente is toegespreek deur ʼn paneel wie almal deurslaggewende deurbrake vir menseregte in verskillende areas van die reg behaal het. Die goue draad wat deur al hierdie deurbrake loop is dat dit gewone Suid-Afrikaners se lewens in die praktyk verbeter het.

Professor Sandra Liebenberg het paneellede beskryf as individue wat die Grondwet kreatief en innoverend gebruik het om menseregte te bevorder. ʼn Toekoms in menseregte het vir die paneellede onder andere beteken dat studente hulle eie ideale moet uitleef en dat studente bewus moet wees van die vloeibare aard van die regsberoep. “Jy moet wie jy is na jou werk bring,” was ʼn brokkie advies wat een van die paneellede, Me Precillar Moyo, ʼn prokureur vir die Equal Education Law Centre in Khayelitsha, aan studente gegee het. Om jou klerkskap by ʼn korporatiewe firma te voltooi kan waardevolle ervaring wees wat nie ʼn persoon hoef te verhoed om ʼn beroep in menseregte te volg nie. Dit was veral belangrike advies vir een van die paneellede Me Odette Geldenhuys, wie verskeie ander beroepe ondersoek het, onder andere as ʼn direkteur vir dokumentêre films, voordat sy later in haar loopbaan ProBono.org gestig het. Tans werk Me Geldenhuys vir Webber Wentzel se Pro Bono afdeling, waar sy haar steeds vir die bevordering van menseregte beywer. Al die paneellede het beklemtoon dat litigasie ʼn laaste opsie behoort te wees, en moet deel vorm van ʼn breë veldtog van menseregte beywering.

Die konkrete betekenis wat ons aan fundamentele regte soos gelykheid en menswaardigheid moet toeken speel nie in ʼn vakuum af nie. Paneellid, Me Nomzamo Zondo, wie die pos van Direkteur van Litigasie by die Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) in Johannesburg beklee, het haar ervaring om te litigeer namens uitgesette persone gedeel. Gelykheid en menswaardigheid het vir Me Zondo meer as teoretiese begrippe geword na dié ervaring. Hierdie regte moet ook die realiteit weerspieël wat uitgesette persone ervaar en dit is die plig van menseregte prokureurs om met gemeenskappe in aanraking te kom om sodoende te verstaan hoe fundamentele regte hulle in die praktyk raak, volgens Me Zondo. Sy het die gehoor herinner dat “menseregte prokureurs verantwoordbaar is aan gewone mense” en dat “gemeenskappe wat [saam] mobiliseer die wêreld kan verander”. Me Zondo het ook haar belangstelling in die politiek van protesaksie aangeraak en die standpunt ingeneem dat baie meer gedoen kan word in terme van die Wet op die Reëling van Byeenkomste om betekenisvolle gevolg te gee aan die grondwetlike reg op betoging soos in artikel 17 van die Handves van Regte verskans. Sy glo ook dat die polisie eerder as fasiliteerders tydens vreedsame protesaksie moet optree.

Die paneel was ook van mening dat die ontwikkelende aard van menseregte baie potensiaal het om huidige sowel as toekomstige onregte op te los. Gelykheid en menswaardigheid is die kern van alle areas van die reg en is ook die grondslag vir enige suksesvolle menseregte prokureur. Me Mudarikwa het die studente se aandag gevestig op die betrokkenheid van die LRC in ʼn komplekse saak waar ʼn versoek om geslagsverandering van interseks individue geweier is omdat hulle bestaande huwelike heteroseksueel was in terme van die Wet op Huwelike. Me Mudarikwa het beklemtoon dat waarde-gedrewe regsredenasie ʼn belangrike rol behoort te speel in regsopvoeding en in die regsprofessie.

Nog ʼn interessante debat van die aand het plaasgevind rakende die botsing van regte in die grondwet. ʼn Vraag was gestel aan die paneel oor die rol van vryheid van geloof en dieselfde geslag huwelike. Me Mudarikwa het geargumenteer dat daar nie ʼn hiërargie van menseregte in die grondwet bestaan nie. Sy het verder beklemtoon dat die reg sekulêr is en dat regte nie met mekaar moet kompeteer nie, maar geharmoniseer moet word. Die bespreking was na aanleiding van die onlangse uitspraak van Guam and Others v Van Rensburg and Others, waar die hof bevind het dat die kerk nie kan diskrimineer teen pare van dieselfde geslag wat in die kerk wil trou nie. Me Moyo het nie saam met Me Mudarikwa gestem nie en het geargumenteer dat regte wel soms bots en dat dit die plig van die regsprekende gesag is om die regte te balanseer en te beperk. Me Moyo het uitgewys dat die spesifieke saak kompleks was as gevolg van die skynbaar onmoontlike keuse wat gegee word aan ʼn mens om eerder geloofswaardes te volg of die regte en waardes van die Grondwet. Die gehoor was gefassineer deur die gesprek wat belangrike vrae geopper het rondom hoe regte in die Grondwet met mekaar gebalanseer en versoen behoort te wees. Soos wat dikwels gebeur in sake met klaarblyklike kompeterende menseregte is daar nie maklike oplossings nie en die paneel het saam gestem dat die saak heel waarskynlik geappelleer sal word.

Die aand is afgesluit met verversings en verdere informele gesprekke. Die regstudente wie die paneelbespreking bygewoon het kon huis toe gaan met nuwe idees en ʼn breër perspektief rakende die bevordering van menseregte. Die feit dat die paneelbespreking twee dae voor Menseregtedag plaasgevind het, het die studente wat die geleentheid bygewoon het diep onder die indruk gebring van hoe vêr ons gekom het in Suid-Afrika ten opsigte van menseregte sowel as wat die toekoms vir menseregte in Suid-Afrika inhou. Die belangrikste was egter dat almal teenwoordig blootgestel is aan menseregte kwessies wat gewone Suid-Afrikaners daagliks konfronteer en wat die rol van prokureurs kan wees om te verseker dat almal gelyk kan deel in die menseregte in ons Grondwet.

Menseregtedag Paneelbespreking, van links na regs: Prof Sandra Liebenberg, HF Oppenheimer Leerstoel in Menseregte; Me Nomzamo Zondo, SERI; Me Odette Geldenhuys, Webber Wentzel; Me Precillar Moyo, Equal Education Law Centre; Me Mandivavarira Mudarikwa, Legal Resources Centre; Prof Bradley Slade, Voorsitter, Regsfakulteit Transformasie Komitee.

Foto geneem deur Me Nondu Phenyane, Fakulteit van Regsgeleerdheid

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