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Article by listed attorney: Fawzia Khan         

As the world pays its respects to and mourns the demise of one of the leading lights in modern history, we in South Africa not only mourn his loss but we also celebrate the remarkable life and unprecedented achievements of this giant of a man, Nelson Mandela. It was hard to imagine back in the day that a peaceful transition into democracy was achievable. With the majority of its citizens being oppressed and suffering grave hardship and injustice, an unjust and evil regime in power, Mandela and others still labouring in prison and South Africans a deeply divided nation, the future of this country looked bleak. Today South Africa is lauded as a beacon of hope to many who face political upheaval in their own countries. Mandela through his hand of reconciliation has encouraged all of us ordinary South Africans to embrace our differences and to recognize that though we are a diverse nation comprising of people of different race, colour, religion, creed, culture, we are “the rainbow nation”. He encouraged us to strive to remain united as a people.

To suggest that since democracy in 1994, South Africa has now effectively overcome all the problems of the apartheid past and is a country free of political, economic and social problems, would be untrue and rather naïve especially since we cannot lay all the blame of our present ills on apartheid.  However, we do have a vehicle which Mandela helped spearhead and which is widely regarded as the backbone of our democracy. It’s called the Constitution of South Africa and Bill of Rights. The Constitution is our blue print for the way forward as it enshrines and protects the rights of all South Africans and carries the legacy Mandela left behind. In it we are guaranteed many rights including the right not to be unfairly discriminated against. The Bill of Rights says that the state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly on the grounds of race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth. Everyone has inherent dignity, the right to freedom and security, the right to privacy, the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion, provided that this freedom does not extend to any propaganda for war or violence, or any hate speech based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm. We are also guaranteed the right of equality before the law, human dignity and the right to live in a non-racial and non-sexist society.

Part of Mandela’s legacy would be for every one of us to strive to adopt his approach to life, to learn to forgive, and to take a stand against injustice. Hamba Kahle Madiba. Thank you for everything you have given us.