Dean for the Faculty of Law
DBE Deputy Director General
Learners and Educators
Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me pleasure and immense pride to be standing here and addressing you on this auspicious occasion where we are not only sharing the best practice and learning, but will also celebrate the best amongst us and what we do.
I bring with me to all of you warm greetings from the Minister of Basic Education, the Honourable Mrs. Angie Motshekga.
I hope that not only will you have a good stay here in Pretoria but that you will also benefit immensely from the many intellectually stimulating oral arguments and engagements over the next few days.
The South African National Schools Moot Court Competition is an annual event established in 2011 aimed at creating greater consciousness and understanding in South African schools and communities about the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the values embodied by it through the active participation of learners in a moot court competition.
Our Constitution occupies an important space in the life of this nascent democracy. When our internationally revered statesman President Nelson Mandela signed the Constitution into law, he on behalf of all South Africans entered into us into a sacred covenant. The Constitution is a set of values upon which our democracy is founded. The Constitution is our overarching vision for the society we sought to create on the ashes of apartheid.
Speaking at the 1st Teachers and Social Cohesion Round-Table last year I said:
“Our Constitution enjoins us to build a new South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. Our Constitution provides an overarching vision for a society at peace with itself. It correctly instructs us thus: Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.”
In this regard, our Constitution is like set of good parents whose entire existence is to provide sanctuary to their children. This Constitution is our sanctuary. That’s why the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It is specifically provided for in the Constitution that any law or an executive or administrative action that is inconsistent with it is invalid and unlawful. We opted for a constitutional state because of our chequered history of apartheid and its unchecked excesses. According to the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, constitutionalism:
“Constitute the sharp and mighty sword that stands ready to chop the ugly head of impunity off its stiffened neck.”
Programme Director, it is worth repeating this important statement on the meaning of our Constitution:
“Certain values in the Constitution have been designated as foundational to our democracy. This in turn means that as pillar-stones of this democracy, they must be observed scrupulously. If these values are not observed and their precepts not carried out conscientiously, we have a recipe for a constitutional crisis of great magnitude. In a State predicated on a desire to maintain the rule of law, it is imperative that one and all should be driven by a moral obligation to ensure the continued survival of our democracy.”
On the 21st Anniversary of our Constitution, it is fitting to pay tribute men and women who were the brains behind what has become a cornerstone of our democracy. In the annals of history, we shall always remember with glee the tenacity and sharp wisdom of the towering figures such as the late Chief Justice Pius Langa, Justice Arthur Chaskalson and Justice Thembile Skweyiya. We owe to them and members of their generation a lifetime of gratitude. In their memory we must ensure that the Constitution remains the bedrock upon which public power is exercised. I must add that our jurisprudence has already established that:
“State resources [must] be used only for the advancement of State interests.”
Programme Director; it will be remiss of me to speak only of the late authors of the Constitution to the exclusion of others. We must always remember to pay tribute to thousands of men and women who lost life and limb in pursuance of ideal of this Constitutional State we have today. We are humbled that we lived through the pain of apartheid, but lucky enough to also experience the joys of living in a free, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society steeped in constitutionalism. We are indeed a special generation.
During the unveiling of the plague at the Constitutional Court, the late President Mandela said to Judge Arthur Chaskalson:
“The guarantee of the fundamental rights and freedoms for which we have fought so hard, lies in your hands. We look to you to honour Constitution and the people it represents. We expect from you, we demand of youth the greatest use of your wisdom, and good sense, no short cuts, no easy solutions honesty. In the end you have only the Constitution and your conscience on which you can rely. We look upon you to serve both without fear and favour.”
In the context of its founding values, our Constitution must be viewed as an instrument for promoting the improvement of the quality of life of all citizens thus freeing the potential of each person. Thus, we in the executive arm of the State must place our energy, and wisdom to fulfil the provision of the Constitution especially as it relates to the Bill of Rights. We must protect and advance the ideals of the Constitution without fear, favour or prejudice.
The 2017 Schools Moot Court Competition Problem Statement that you will be arguing is on Cultural Rights. It thus highlights some of the challenges that still exist within our schools and communities regarding Cultural Practices vs the Constitutional Value System. It also addresses the need for all to feel confident in their own identities. Hence it becomes imperative to consider, recognize, acknowledge and appreciate the diverse religious and multicultural belief systems that exist with our country.
This then makes National School Moot Court Competition critical and the best place to begin and make a lasting impact within our schools. As part of the classroom based activity, it forms part of the discursive essay writing and offers learners an opportunity to apply the content of the Constitution in a real life setting and provide a platform to express ways of how we can observe and consider the human rights principles as glue that keeps us together. Learning as a social activity has a strong influence on the development of shared norms and the value placed on tolerance and understanding within a society.
The above topic reflects on the notion of race, class, discrimination, space and gender that has not yet been fully comprehended. Sadly, our schools still experience incidents of division along the lines of race, language, ethnicity, religion, national origin and class. Thus it is imperative that the government in collaboration with NGO’s and Chapter Nine institutions must work tirelessly to build bridges and fight against all types of discrimination. We are convinced that the best place to start with a view to achieve a lasting impact is in our public schools. Public schooling is in essence a public obligation established to achieve common good for the nation as a whole irrespective of class or race divide. We have since begun to appreciate that public schooling has a role to play in deepening democracy and achieving long-term objectives of economic development and prosperity.
It is worth noting that the Moot Court Programme is being embraced as part of the government’s key drivers of the National Development Plan (NDP) under outcomes 14. It is viewed as bridging the gap between the moral values espoused by the South African Constitution and those of the majority of the country’s citizens. The prevailing democratic culture has created an enabling environment for redress, nation building and promotion of cultural rights.
It is the Constitutional values and principles that have the potential to hold the diverse classroom and schooling communities together and instil:
- A sense of belonging for all our learners, educators and parents;
- A broadly shared set of public values and norms for social conduct;
- Positive valuation of diverse cultures, languages, beliefs and religions;
- Respect and tolerance for political and ideological differences;
- A high level of awareness of the rights and obligations of citizens; and
- A proud consciousness of being South African.
As the Department of Basic Education, we hope and trust that this joint initiative with the Department of Justice, Foundation for Human Rights, University of Pretoria and other key partners and stakeholders will serve as a continual platform to ensure that learners’ real life setting is free from any type of discrimination. Learners must be given equal opportunities so that they can play a meaningful role in our fractured public life. Thus, this cohort of learners must become paratroopers in the continuing programme to nurture social cohesion, transform society and unite the nation.
Finally, I would like to wish you exciting and successful sessions. May the best woman or man win!!!
I thank you.