Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge: A couple who served the people

August 15th, 2023
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Chief Justice Raymond Zondo unveiled the Pius Langa Building and delivered the Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge Memorial Lecture on 20 July 2023, at the Nelson Mandela University. Chief Justice Zondo said that it was wonderful that he was invited to deliver the lecture as well as unveil the Pius Langa Building, as he had known both the Mxenge and Langa family for the longest time. He added that he considers it an honour that the Nelson Mandela University had invited him to deliver the Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge Memorial Lecture – a most distinguished couple who were brutally assassinated by Apartheid agents – for their contribution to the dismantling of Apartheid and the attainment of freedom.

Chief Justice Zondo said that it is when one remembers struggle icons, such as Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge, that people should rededicate themselves to the service of the people and to put the interest of the people first, because when one looks at the lives of Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge, one sees what was foremost in their mind was to serve the people. He added that it was not about what was in it for them, but about helping people and advancing the struggle, for the liberation of the majority of South Africans.

Chief Justice Zondo pointed out that despite being harassed by the Apartheid police and security for a long time, detained and banned, Griffiths Mxenge always came back and continued with the struggle from where he had left off. He knew as many who were involved in the struggle knew, that being killed by Apartheid agents, because of the fight against Apartheid, was always a possibility and sometimes a likelihood. However, he was not prepared to be deterred, because of his commitment to the dismantling of Apartheid and the attainment of freedom by the majority in this country, Chief Justice Zondo said.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo unveiled the Pius Langa Building and delivered the Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge Memorial Lecture on 20 July 2023, at the Nelson Mandela University. Image: Facebook/Nelson Mandela University

Chief Justice Zondo said he chose the title of ‘The role and significance of a strong judiciary in South Africa’s constitutional democracy’, for his lecture, as both Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge as legal practitioners would have had a particular interest in the type of judiciary that South Africa (SA) would have as a constitutional democracy. ‘I believe that they would have wanted a South Africa with a Bill of Rights and a strong and independent judiciary,’ Chief Justice Zondo said.

Chief Justice Zondo spoke about the significance and role of the judiciary. He briefly compared the judicial system during the Apartheid era and the present-day democratic SA. He pointed out that the judicial state under Apartheid was based on the foundation of racism, and in the democratic SA, the judicial system was built on a foundation of human dignity, achievement of equality and advancement of human rights, freedom, non-racialism, non-sexism, supremacy of the Constitution, and the rule of law among others.

Chief Justice Zondo added that under Apartheid, Parliament was sovereign and could make any laws it chose to make, and the courts had no powers to validate its laws, irrespective of how irrational they were. He pointed out that under the constitutional democracy, there is no parliamentary sovereignty, in our constitutional democracy the Constitution is supreme, unlike in Apartheid where the courts had no power to challenge Parliament. However, he said that under the constitutional democracy, as per s 2 of the Constitution, the Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic.

Chief Justice Zondo said that when one looks at the role of the courts, the Constitution makes it clear that the Bill of Rights applies to the executive, legislature, and the judiciary. He added that when every judge who has been appointed and assumes their duties as a judge, they take an oath of office. He pointed out that through that oath or affirmation that they take, they commit that they will be faithful to the Republic of SA, and will uphold the Constitution, and that they will protect all the human rights entrenched in it, and they will administer justice to all persons alike, without fear, favour, or prejudice. ‘When one talks about the role of courts and the judiciary, we are talking about a judiciary in a constitutional democracy, where the Bill of Rights is fundamental, where the Constitution is supreme. … We deal with the judiciary which makes an oath that they will uphold the Constitution and protect all fundamental rights,’ Chief Justice Zondo added.

Chief Justice Zondo pointed out that the courts resolve disputes that are referred to them as contemplated in s 34 of the Constitution. These disputes can, therefore, be resolved by the application of law. He added that the courts are supposed to grant relief to all those who show that their fundamental rights have been infringed. He said that when the courts deal with constitutional matters, s 172 of the Constitution gives the courts wide powers to ensure that they give effective relief to people whose rights have been violated. And it is against this background that SA experienced serious violation of human rights for a long time. He pointed out that when there are violations of human rights, under the democratic SA, courts must be able to grant effective relief.

Chief Justice Zondo added that the courts are required in terms of s 173 of the Constitution, among others, to develop the common law and customary law because customary law and the common law, insofar as they remains consistent with the Constitution, are valid, and the Constitution is to make sure that where customary law and common law falls short of the requirements of the Constitution, the courts can develop them.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

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