“Everybody has got a right to freedom of speech but it is limited that you cannot propagate war, use hate speech to discriminate others”. Those were the words of Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Honourable Mr John Jeffery. The Deputy Minister was speaking during the Freedom Day celebration at the University of Venda organized by Univen Black Lawyers Association Student Chapter (BLASC) and the School of Law on Wednesday, 27 April 2016. During his address the Deputy Minister, John Jeffery said that the Hate Crime Bill is in the pipeline which will play a vital role in addressing the issues of racism and hate crimes.
The Bill will go a long way and is expected to propose making offences based on a person’s sexuality, gender identity, race, religion or any other trait, a uniquely classified crime. According to the Deputy Minister, the Bill will also include violence against foreigners and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people as this has escalated in the country, including “corrective rape” against lesbians – rape perpetrated with a view to changing the victim’s sexual orientation – which would be considered a hate crime under the new law. He further said “if you assault someone because you do
not like their group identity, for example gays or Tsongas that will be considered as a hate crime.
“Let me warn you that those who will be found guilty in the new Bill will be heavily punished”, added Jeffrey. The issues of discrimination against females in the law profession which is highly dominated by males was also discussed during the celebration. “We must deal with stereotypes that if you’re a woman you will never succeed in the legal profession.
In her opening and welcoming address, the Dean of the School of Law, Annette Lansink, said that she appreciated the visit by Deputy Minister Jeffery to the University of Venda to speak on the relevant topic of racism and freedom of speech. Dean Lansink quoted OR Tambo, who had passed away 23 years ago on 24 April 1993: “using the power you derive from the discovery of the truth about racism in South Africa, you will help us to remake our part of the world into a corner of the globe of which all of humanity can be proud”. She mentioned the need to combat institutional and systemic racism and engage white privilege. The Dean highlighted the transformative role of the Constitution and legal education in creating a society based on ‘democratic values, social justice and fundamental rights’.
The future of South African youth was also discussed by the National Secretary General of Black Lawyers Association Students Chapter (BLASC), and an LLB student from North West University-Mafikeng campus, Rendani Ramagoma. “I think it is important to acknowledge that it can never be correct to reverse the gains made in the challenge to unite the people of South Africa across all racial divides”, said Ramagoma. He further said “of course we know and still believe that we might have pulled the cart before the horse as a country when a decision to rainbownise the nation for lack of better words, took priority over all matters that needed to have been attended to by our honest discussions”.
Ramagoma also talked about the issue of blacks still being discriminated against because of their skin colour. “For so many years we have been relegated to position of slavery, degradation, victims of crime and perpetual beggars of our own freedom are the ones to call us once again monkeys and everything equivalent, claiming in their callousness to be expressing themselves with the purview of our constitution”, said Mr Ramangoma. He further mentioned that “We surely expect that 22 years into the democratic dispensation South Africa black and white will acknowledge as per the Preamble of our Constitution justifying their demeaning statements by wrongly hiding behind the right to freedom of expression”.
The celebration was graced by the presence of Mr Benedict Sigogo of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) who talked about the importance of the Black Lawyers Association. “We must not agree or keep quite when the resources of our country which are supposed to be shared by all to be abused by the privileged few. We must not keep quite when the judiciary and the legal profession are being disrespected by the Executive”, said Sigogo.
He further said that “It is equally correct for us to make noise when we see the judiciary encroaching on the executive’s sphere in a way which is not acceptable”.
Mr Sigogo further highlighted that “Black Lawyers Association (BLA) is not by form or substance racist. It is an association of people who fight discrimination of black people, in particular Black legal practitioners”.
Among the other people who were present, was Mrs Humbelani Netshandama who encouraged and advised the youth to know what exactly they are celebrating. According to Mrs Netshandama’s explanation of freedom, after reading a scripture from the book of
Genesis chapter one, freedom means free to rule, control and dominate. Mrs Netshandama said “Celebrating freedom day is not enough if there are no substance at hand to confirm that indeed we should celebrate. “We cannot come and celebrate and say we are free when we are economically dependent. We are banking on you (referring to the youth) that this country will no longer be taken by any other group dominating the other. The currency of this country is still decided by somebody somewhere and yet we are saying we are free”, said Mrs Netshandama. She added that anyone who attempt a degree in law should be rich enough to help the people and once you have a degree you are well equipped to employ yourself. She also advised young black lawyers to study customary law so that we can be able to solve African problems in an African way, hence we are trying to solve African disputes in the terms of Europe which European themselves no longer use. “
Mr Sekoaila Kwena from Legal Aid South Africa and based in Limpopo-Mpumalanga Region, advised the youth about the Relevancy of the Law Clinic in the Training of Law Students and said “do not be a lawyer because you want to be rich. As a lawyer you will be successful but being rich, you still have a long way to go”. Mr Kwena told the audience that Legal Aid is not for free, it is funded by government. The free part comes only to those whom Legal Aid is assisting, get services for free because your bill has been paid by the government.
Messages of support were also coming from the Chairperson of BLASC from the University of Limpopo, Mr Thapelo Mampshika and Univen’s Chairperson of the Law Student Council, Mr Gerson Mmbadi.
The celebration was largely attended by lawyers from the Vhembe area, University of Venda Law students and academics.
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Date: 04 May 2016