The late human rights legal practitioner Priscilla Jana described as a giant

October 28th, 2020

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA) is mourning the passing of the Deputy Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and anti-Apartheid human rights legal practitioner, Priscilla Jana, who SAWLA referred to as the people’s lawyer and freedom fighter. In a statement released by SAWLA, the organisation stated that Ms Jana played a pivotal role in fighting Apartheid and stood against the white system without trepidation. SAWLA added that Ms Jana was a ‘rare kind when man could not respond at Solomon Mahlangu’s Trial to him saying “Amandla” she was the only one who replied amongst men that were present’.

SAWLA pointed out that many injustices have occurred in South Africa (SA) despite the country having one of the best constitutions in the world. The organisation added that Ms Jana highlighted and raised awareness against the execution of Solomon Mahlangu by the Apartheid regime. The organisation said Ms Jana fought for Rapu Molekane, a teenager who was an underground operative of the African National Congress’ Umkhonto we Sizwe. Ms Jana also fought for the likes of Steve Bantu Biko and many others to realise the cause of freedom.

SAWLA pointed out that Ms Jana kept the families of those she defended abreast of their situation like a caring mother. The organisation added that Ms Jana has left a legacy, which many can only look at with admiration. ‘We need to take the baton and continue the good fight that she has begun. As women, we need to ask ourselves these questions: What are we doing in our respective spaces? How are we contributing towards the current system? Is this what the blood of Solomon Mahlangu was shed for? Are we where we are supposed to be in South Africa with fighters like Priscilla Jana? … We need more Priscilla’s to use their skills and expertise to fight for the poor and the marginalised. SAWLA has taken a conscious decision to fight for the voiceless especially women and children. We will follow in your strides Mama Priscilla, we will importunate the fight no injustice will be perpetuated in our aura. Rest in Peace Qhawe lama Qhawe’, the statement added.

Meanwhile the SAHRC in its statement described Ms Jana as a giant, who sacrificed herself selflessly for others to enjoy the fruit of the constitutional democracy. The SAHRC said that as a Black female legal practitioner, Ms Jana overcame pernicious limitations imposed by the Apartheid system that marginalised her on the basis of race, sex and gender and fought for the liberation of the then oppressed majority of South Africans. The statement added that Ms Jana continued to give of herself, up until the age of 76, still labouring tirelessly to substantively turn SA into a country where all people who live in it are equal, enjoy their freedom and innate human dignity.

The SAHRC pointed out that in her younger days, Ms Jana was granted a Government of India Scholarship to study medicine in India where she completed studies in Inter-Science and returned to SA in 1965. She completed a Bachelor of Laws Degree at the University of South Africa. In 1979, she opened her own law practice focusing on civil liberties and human rights.

The statement added that Ms Jana served as South African Ambassador in the Netherlands from 2001 to 2005 and the Ambassador in Ireland from 2006 to 2011. She was a member of Parliament from 1994 to 1999, serving on numerous Committees including: The Portfolio Committee on Justice, she was the Chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Member of the Joint Committee on Public Protectors’ Interest.

Ms Jana joined the SAHRC on 3 January 2017 as its Commissioner and Deputy Chairperson. The organisation added that Ms Jana took responsibility for the Commission’s Equality Focus Area, continuing her devotion toward ensuring SA’s transformation as a truly equal society irrespective of a person’s race, sex, gender or any other identifier. Ms Jana passed away on Saturday, 10 October 2020. President Cyril Ramaphosa declared an official provincial funeral for Ms Jana.

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

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