Constitution without laws is worthless
Picture: Mr Justice Zac Yacoob who spoke on Shabbat at Beit Emanuel on Human Rights Day.
PHOTOGRAPH: SIMON HOCHSCHILD
March 21 1960 is fixed in the DNA of South Africans. It was the day that 69 people were shot dead by police at a protest meeting in Sharpeville outside Vanderbijlpark. It is commemorated each year as “Human Rights Day
Beit Emanuel Progressive Congregation in Johannesburg invited Mr Justice Zak Yacoob to address them after the evening service on Friday, March 21.
Speaking to a packed audience, Justice Yacoob said: “It is an absolute honour to be here, to thank the Jewish people for their contribution to the (anti-apartheid) Struggle.” He called upon them “to continue to contribute to the type of society we all want”.
He added: “It is wrong to call Sharpeville Day the Human Rights Day because to do so we are going away from our past. Besides the 69 who passed away at Sharpeville, our job is to remember the thousands who died in the Struggle and then we must ensure that it never happens again.
“Our Constitution allows no racism, but the reality is that more than 90 per cent of our people are disappointed with it, one way or another. There is a disconnect between human rights and what most people want.
“Our Constitution says that we must move away from the law of the jungle and the ‘survival of the fittest’. We do not want to live in a society like this one that we have.
“Just look at the discrimination against people with disabilities. A Constitution without laws is not worth the paper that it is written on. The majority is always right but the law of the jungle is not always right.”
However, Mr Justice Yacoob was sanguine: “We are better off in terms of racism than anywhere else on Earth because of our Constitution. Our humanity is linked to the humanity of other people and it involves respect for other people.
“On this day, March 21, we must establish for South Africans all the values of the Constitution because it really is the Constitution of the people. We must organise ourselves and the main step is education.”
He said the investigation by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela into the cost of President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead (which had just been made public) “shows our democracy is working. Our Constitution is setting a standard which holds the whole government to account.”
Justice Yakoob succinctly remarked: “There is no legal authority without moral authority.”
Professor David Bilchitz, who introduced Justice Yacoob, remarked that “March 21 1969 is a sad day. But we must (also) remember the 34 miners who died at Marikana and they were no threat whatsoever.”
Bilchitz read out Justice Yacoob’s impressive list of attainments in the South African legal world. He was born in Durban in 1948 and affected by meningitis, he lost his eyesight at the age of 16 months. He obtained his BA LLB at the University of Durban Westville. Having served the legal profession in KwaZulu-Natal with distinction, he became a judge of the Constitutional Court in 1998.