Democratic dynamite comes in small packages

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The joint winners of the Bunnahabhain Humanitarian Award, the Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom under Law, prove that when it comes to defending democracy, sometimes all it takes is a few good men – or even one woman!
by MIRAH LANGER | Sep 06, 2018

“Many are surprised to learn that Freedom under Law is a very, very small organisation. It has a single employee – and that’s me,” Freedom under Law’s Nicole Fritz wryly quipped in accepting the award.

Yet, she said, she certainly could not take all the credit for the success of the organisation.

Both its board, Chaired by Justice Johann Kriegler, as well as its legal teams, had allowed it to punch well above its weight when it came to ensuring that constitutional values were protected.

Paying tribute to Justice Kriegler, Fritz said that he had “given life to this Constitution, as one of the founding judges”, and now continued to do so in his role at the organisation.

“We are here to promote our constitutional democracy, defend the Bill of Rights and… hold those in power accountable,” she declared.

Kriegler was unable to attend the award ceremony on Sunday, as he was in Khartoum, Sudan delivering a lecture on constitutionalism.

However, in a video message, he said that he was “damn proud” of the work the organisation had done in “promoting the welfare of all”.

In accepting the award, Francis Antonie, the Executive Director of the Helen Suzman Foundation, paid tribute to the powerful woman whose legacy his organisation aims to uphold.

“We can give thanks for Helen’s life, and especially the values she brought to public life which we endeavour to honour in our work,” he declared.

Antonie also expressed deep gratitude to the legal minds behind many of their successful court challenges, as well as the donors who provided the financial backing needed.

Fritz urged the crowd to continue backing rights groups.

“This moment probably represents our very best chance in a decade of securing a return to the constitutional values that have been promised, and are promised, by our founding document… Civil society needs to be supported,” she said.

The Bunnahabhain Humanitarian Award is bestowed in honour of Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris, and in receiving the accolade, Antonie paid tribute to the religious leader’s example.

“Rabbi Harris’s life’s work is well known to all those here this evening,” said Antonie, pointing out that beyond Harris’s “exemplary role in the Jewish community”, he also wished to draw attention to the “extraordinary spiritual leadership [Harris] provided to the broader society”.

Antonie also thanked Ann Harris, the widow of the late chief rabbi, for flying to Johannesburg to present at the ceremony on Sunday night. “This honour is wonderfully enhanced by being given personally by Ann Harris,” he said.

In presenting the award, Ann Harris noted the spiritual significance of the humanitarian category.

“At this particular time of the year for us, we should always remember that human rights, the giving of justice and dignity to all, is a core value of the Jewish ethical code,” she said.


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