Judge President Dunstan Mlambo
LLD acceptance and Keynote remarks by Judge President Dunstan Mlambo– Fort hare University
It is a singular honour to accept the conferral on me of the Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree – Honoris Causa. I thank the Council of the University of Fort Hare for bestowing me with this honour. I must also acknowledge the presence of my parents, my children, my siblings and Justice Moses Mavundla who have all accompanied me to this ceremony. Judge Mavundla’s late father was a colleague and a very close friend of my father.
History tells us that the University of Fort Hare was the melting pot of African Nationalism in times gone by. Fort Hare was the place to go to for young African Leaders and yes, for us in this country, I must acknowledge former President and Dr Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and Prof Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, being two of many illustrious alumni of this university. Fort Hare then rightly became the cradle and springboard for African Nationalist movements whose aim was to remove the yoke of domination and subjugation, oppression and racial segregation underpinned by colonialism and apartheid.
I am therefore honoured to receive this award from such an illustrious bastion of learning and progressive thinking. At no time did I ever dream, no matter how wild, that I would on this day be conferred with such an honour.
I obtained my law degree in the early 80s at Turfloop University now the University of Limpopo. As law students the names in law reports we read then were – Ramsbottom; Holmes; Fagan; Rabie; Rumpff, Wessels to name a few. African names were conspicuous by their absence in all those law reports. This was a white male Judiciary judging Africans who were considered an inferior race. As law students in the early 80s we openly expressed a commitment to change that status quo in our lifetime especially the prioritisation of the development of African law jurisprudence by African jurists. I must, at this juncture, acknowledge the leading role played in this regard by yet another of Fort Hare’s products - Justice John Mandlakayise Hlophe, the JP of the Western Cape Division of the High Court. He has always been very vocal on this subject. We have today a totally transformed Judiciary but that evolution continues
Your graduation today, what does it mean to you and your families. Yes joy and happiness and for good reason, it’s been a journey of hardship and sacrifice and now you are rewarded.
But make no mistake about one fact - You have been favoured by circumstances to achieve this goal where many others have fallen by the wayside. You should be grateful for your fortune and I also add my voice to the many others in congratulating you. Well done!!
What reality awaits you therefore as graduates outside the academic world. The aim of these brief remarks is to put the correct perspective and meaning to your graduation.
Context, as they say, is everything and it is the convenient starting point.
In the Education sector, we see the emergence of troubling challenges -
- Ø A restless and demoralised youth with the larger majority living in and surrounded by poverty and marginalisation;
- Ø growing violence in places of learning sometimes resulting in the death of learners and educators;
- Ø a youth confronted by and gravitating towards the wrong role models, role models that underplay and relegate the value of education, role models that promote greed and elevate the pursuit of wealth at all costs especially through less honourable means;
- Ø we are daily confronted by allegations of full-scale looting of public funds in the main where service delivery has been totally removed from the agenda.
The victims of these trends are ordinary members of society.
The challenge you have to confront with your qualifications is to reverse this moral decay in our midst. With your newly acquired qualifications, you can and it is the responsibility of each one of you to do so. You can put your qualifications to good use by instilling confidence in the youth about the value of education. The 4th Industrial Revolution is upon us and you can help our youth to embrace this era correctly, to ensure beneficial development in our societies. It can be done and you have no option but to rise to this challenge.
In the legal field – you are entering an environment of shrinking opportunities and the diminishing fees cake for legal professionals.
The legal profession is experiencing rising levels of professional malfeasance driven by greed reliant on the targeting of unsuspecting vulnerable litigants e.g. RAF claimants. We have to contend with unabating striking offs of deviant legal professionals.
The Profession is confronted by stubborn racist and sexist briefing patterns. Yes African practitioners and women in general continue to be excluded from business and commercial work. Is that what our Constitution envisages. I say not and I know you agree with me and you must do your bit to debunk the myth that African lawyers and women are incapable of handling commercial legal work.
The Profession is facing a society expressing growing despondency and diminishing confidence in our Constitutional dispensation.
Why do I talk about these challenges – to make sure you are alive to the reality that awaits you.
You can use your qualifications to full effect in addressing these challenges and in further reversing the moral decay in our society and redirecting development in the correct direction. Your theatre of action is public administration – as educators, lecturers, professors, Government officials, lawyers, advocates etc.
You will be on the right track to demand and instil accountability in all spheres of public administration. In the April 2019 edition of the New African magazine, the editor, Enver Versi, says of the public service “Their one and only responsibility while they hold office is to do everything in the considerable power vested in them to fulfil the wishes of the people and employ the state’s resources, to alleviate problems faced by citizens and improve their standards of living. They have no other function.” So true and you will be within your rights to demand this of the public service.
A continental perspective is not out of place - what have our leaders adopted by way of continental instruments and programmes, to address our situation as Africans, on the governance front but more directly regarding accountable governance for the benefit the African citizenry.
Let me mention a few – they have adopted the OAU Revised constitutive document which established the African Union, the African Peer Review Mechanism, the New Partnership for African Development and last but not least, Agenda 2063.
You will agree with me that these instruments were adopted with the best of intentions for African. The question is, have they achieved their objectives and if not, will they in some future time?. These are the questions you should be asking yourselves as you celebrate achieving your educational success and preparing to leave the academic.
In this country our Constitution is the beacon that you should always seek to uphold in your endeavours.
A key right enshrined in the Constitution is the right to education. It is scandalous that in this day and age we should have innocent children dying horribly in school pit latrines, watch rising illiteracy and school dropout levels, witness the African citizenry being hoodwinked by religious charlatans. Serious educational empowerment programmes are needed to address this scourge and eradicate this vulnerability. You can and must use your qualifications to engage in and support community based initiatives targeting these perennial scourges.
Another key right in our Bill of Rights is access to justice – contained in a number of provisions. Use your qualifications to debunk the myth that you need money to enjoy this right. There are many community based initiatives at grass roots levels where you can use your qualifications to societal beneficial effect. Embrace pro bono initiatives, partake in public interest initiatives to ensure service delivery for the community and this will surely rekindle confidence and faith in our Constitution.
Access to Justice was identified as one of the reasons for the failure of the Millennium Development Goals. We now have the Sustainable Development Goals which incorporate human rights and justice in general. Embrace the objectives of the SDGs and you will find so much resonance with our Constitution on all levels.
Use your qualifications to debunk the myth that the gateway to individual wealth is political and public office. You are proof that this is not correct.
All your endeavours in education, in law, in public service, in the community space should be aimed at upholding the cornerstone of any democracy – the rule of law. We are doomed without the rule of law and many examples abound around us to confirm this.
We in the Judiciary look forward to your contribution to ensuring accountability by public officials for the good of society.
We in the Judiciary are acutely aware of our responsibilities in the governing scheme of this country. We have as the Judiciary in the recent past been called upon to consider and adjudicate issues traditionally not brought to Courts before. This has meant that at times we read the riot act to the other arms of government where we found that they had strayed away from what the Constitution envisages.
We have done and will continue to do what the Constitution enjoins us to do, no more no less and we apologise to no one for doing our work. We fear no one, we favour no one and we are not prejudiced against anyone
You can in your spheres do this as well.
I want to leave you with the words of a wise African leader who said -
“Even the most benevolent of governments are made up of people with all the propensities for human failings. The rule of law as we understand it consists in the set of conventions and arrangements that ensure that it is not left to the whims of individual rulers to decide on what is good for the populace. The administrative conduct of government and authorities is subject to scrutiny of independent organs. This is an essential element of good governance that we have sought to have built into our new constitutional order…It was to me, never the reason for irritation but rather a source of comfort when these bodies were asked to adjudicate on actions of my Government and my office and judged against me.” These are the words uttered by former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
I once more congratulate you and wish you well going forward.