27 March 2024 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Sonia Small
Human Rights 18 March 2024
Vanessa Rose September, Chair of the Albie Sachs Trust, hands over donated books to Prof Serges Kamga, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of the Free State.

Echoing the words of Nelson Mandela, Prof Francis Petersen, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Free State (UFS), emphasised the profound significance of human rights. “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity,” he said during his opening address at the Human Rights Celebration held by the UFS Faculty of Law on 18 March 2024.

Acknowledging the pivotal role played by stalwarts such as Emeritus Justice Albie Sachs and Sir Sydney Kentridge, Prof Petersen delved into the strides made since the inception of South Africa’s contemporary constitution.

Underlining the university’s unwavering commitment to human rights, Prof Petersen added, “For universities, it remains critical that every aspect of academic life is viewed through the lens of human rights. The principle of equality lies at the centre of our purpose and operations.”

Furthermore, Prof Serges Kamga, Dean of the Faculty of Law, highlighted the institution’s vision encapsulated in Vision 130, striving to produce graduates who embody excellence and contribute to societal transformation.

Panel discussion: Sir Sydney Kentridge’s enduring legacy

Former Justice Zak Yacoob, renowned for his tenure at the Constitution Court of South Africa, paid tribute to Sir Sydney Kentridge in a panel discussion focusing on Kentridge’s contributions to human rights both nationally and internationally.

Reflecting on his personal experiences working alongside Sir Kentridge, Justice Yacoob highlighted the practical essence of human rights advocacy. He recounted Sir Kentridge’s seminal role in shaping the constitutional court’s early judgments, particularly emphasising the incorporation of human dignity into the constitutional framework.

Justice Yacoob’s insights shed light on the profound impact of Sir Kentridge’s jurisprudence on society, particularly in shaping notions of dignity, equality, and freedom. “The contribution he made was absolutely amazing. He wrote the first-ever judgement delivered by that court in April 1995. It was the first judgement that brought forth the issue of human dignity and its importance.”

Joining the discussion were esteemed panelists including Honourable Madam Justice Yvonne Mbatha and Dr Adri Du Plessis, who provided expert commentary on Sir Kentridge’s contributions to the legal fraternity. The discussion was moderated by Prof Elsabe Schoeman, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria.

Honouring legal icons

Vanessa Rose September, Chair of the Albie Sachs Trust, presented books donated by the trust. The biography titled Arthur Chaskalson: A life dedicated to justice for all chronicles the life of Chaskalson, a towering figure in South Africa’s legal landscape.

Emeritus Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs delivered a thought-provoking lecture, pondering the question of whether there is cause for celebration on the 30th anniversary of human rights in South Africa.

With a rich history of activism and legal scholarship, Justice Sachs reflected on the evolution of South Africa’s judiciary and the enduring legacy of the Constitutional Court. Despite acknowledging prevailing challenges, Justice Sachs remained optimistic, citing the country’s constitutional framework as a beacon of hope and progress. “There’s lot to be angry about, there’s lots to complain about, there’s lots that has to be renounced, but there’s lots to celebrate. We’ve got a country, we’ve got a constitution, we’ve got rights, we’ve got instruments that we can use,” he said.

In conclusion, the Human Rights Celebration served as a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggle for dignity, equality, and justice, reaffirming the university’s steadfast commitment to upholding these fundamental principles in academia and beyond.

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