On 18 March 2024, the University of Venda’s Ismail Mahomed Centre for Human and Peoples’ Rights in the Faculty of Management Commerce and Law hosted a Human Rights Day Public Lecture. The distinguished guest speaker for this event was the former Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission Advocate Bongani Majola. The event aimed at enlightening the University of Venda (UNIVEN) community about the prevalent violations of human rights in South Africa, with a particular focus on the right to healthcare services. During the Public Lecture, Advocate Majola clearly reviewed the state of healthcare services in South Africa and explained strategies that individuals can adopt to advocate for and advance it in their communities.

The lecture served as a significant platform for fostering awareness and understanding, shedding light on existing gaps in knowledge and practice that necessitate both immediate and future interventions. Advocate Bongani Majola, drawing from his extensive expertise in human rights issues in South Africa, helped in identifying challenges, proposed potential interventions, and formulating approaches to effectively promote and advance the human rights of affected populations in the country. The event was attended by 130 participants.
Advocate Majola noted that the month of March is commemorated as human rights month, which presents us all with a unique opportunity to reflect on our democracy and its underpinning commitment to human rights. Explaining why the right to health
is so crucial, he set the stage for an insightful presentation by clarifying that the right to health does not guarantee any of us good health or absence from illness. He noted as well that the enjoyment of the right to health depends on the realisation of other rights or existence of other factors. For instance, illustrated Advocate Majola, the enjoyment of the right to health depends on having access to safe drinking water, good road, nutritious food, sanitation and housing.

In particular, the learned Professor asserted that the good road is important because in most rural parts of South Africa, this is often a huge problem. Citing his experience during his visit to Eastern Cape as Chairman of the South African Human Rights Commission, Advocate Majola explained that in the Eastern Cape, there is a community where people live 8 km away from a hospital facility but there is a river in between which whenever flooded often forces community members to drive 60 km (if they have the means of transportation) to access the health facility. He believed that in that circumstance, a good bridge would make a world of difference to the health and wellbeing of the community members as it would enable them to get quickly to the hospital. He also stated that the right to health includes both the physical and mental wellbeing of a person, and that it also includes the issue of accessing health care which must be as available, adequate, affordable, and accessible.
Narrowing his presentation down to access to healthcare in South Africa, Advocate Majola indicated that apart from being available in the Constitution of South Africa, the right is guaranteed in a number of international human rights to which South Africa is committed. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Economic and Social Cultural Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990). Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003). In our sub-region the Southern African Development Community (SADC) adopted a Protocol on Health (1999). He indicated these instruments recognise the right of everybody to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
In his further view, the distinguished speaker explained that the preamble to the South African Constitution sets out the ideals that the founders of our democracy believe we should strive towards achieving, and these ideal include the need to improve the quality of life for all citizens. He then advised that in this month of reflection about rights, we should embrace the thinking the right to access healthcare can only be achieved if everyone plays his role as an active and faithful citizens and patriots well. Hence, it is a month to reflect on questions such as: what efforts are we making as individuals, communities and other organs of state to ensure that our preferences do not undermine the right of others to access healthcare; what efforts are we making as individuals, communities and other organs of state to enhance the promotion and protection of another person’s right to access healthcare service; and when we enjoy our rights do we create space for others to realise their own rights. While there is no doubt that state should be accountable for fulfilment of such rights as the right to health, it is important these questions be addressed across all scales of responsibility and duty.
Advocate Majola highlighted some of the factors that limit access to health care in South Africa. These include, shortage of staff nurses, shortage of auxiliary staff nurses lack of resources and poor infrastructure, and shortage of specialists. He illustrated with copious examples drawn from his experiences as the former Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission how these factors do undermine the right to access healthcare services in South Africa. He narrated the ordeals that old persons, women, children, and sometimes men who complain of GBV endure experience while pursuing access to health care services. In particular, he described the issues of cultural stigma associated with patients of mental health across South Africa which led to mistreatment, wrong labelling and sometimes their untimely death. He lamented that all through the provinces, weaknesses in the health sector have become a fertile soil for humongous medico-legal claims and damages awards which divert resources that would otherwise be available to a provincial health department to provide access to health care services.
While rounding up his wonderful presentation he stressed the collective responsibility, beyond the state, for the protection and advancement of human rights. Advocate Majola’s impassioned call to action resonates as a poignant reminder that the pursuit of human rights is a shared endeavour, compelling us all to reflect on our individual and communal contributions towards a more just and equitable society.

The Interim Deputy Dean: Teaching and Learning, Prof Tharien van der Walt gave the welcoming address on behalf of the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Management, Commerce and Law, Prof Modimowabarwa Kanyane. She set the stage by highlighting to the eager audience because the theme of the lecture is important.
Professor Ademola Oluborode Jegede, Interim Director of the Ismail Mahomed Centre for Human and Peoples’ Rights, warmly welcomed Advocate Bongani Majola, as the esteemed guest speaker. With admiration,

Professor Jegede highlighted Advocate Majola’s distinguished credentials, his profound impact as an inspiration to many, and his remarkable ability to wield power with grace and humility. Until December 2023, Advocate Majola held the position of Chairperson at the South African Human Rights Commission, overseeing its crucial mandate of promoting and protecting human rights across the nation. The Commission, comprising six full-time and two part-time commissioners, operates with a staff of nearly 200 across nine provincial offices, actively working to monitor and assess human rights observance in South Africa.
Prior to his tenure at the Commission, Advocate Majola served in prominent roles both domestically and internationally, including as Professor of Law and Dean at various universities in South Africa, and as the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Registrar of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. His extensive experience in legal practice and academia is underscored by his contributions to public interest litigation and his leadership at organizations such as the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa. With a strong background in law and a commitment to justice, Advocate Majola’s presence at the event exemplified his ongoing dedication to advancing human rights, as acknowledged by Professor Jegede, who also expressed profound gratitude to Ms Annette Lansink, the former dean of the School of Law, for her attendance.

While proposing a vote of thanks, Advocate Gideon Joubert, standing in for Professor Lonias Ndlovu, the interim Director of the School of Law, acknowledged the informative presentations made by the speaker and thanked the distinguished audience for honouring this public Lecture, making it a success.

The programme was directed by Ms Crystal Mokoena

Issued by: Department of Marketing, Branding and Communication
University of Venda
Tel: (015) 962 8525 /8710
Date: 25 March 2024

Skip to content