I came into this world screaming having been born two days early as the doctor decided my mother was at the end of her pregnancy. For weeks she couldn’t sleep as I stared at her glassy-eyed from my cot, howling if she put her head down and out of sight. At the same time, apartheid officials were inescapably stared at by the families of those they had oppressed and killed as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began its first formal hearings. The year was 1996.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a court-like body, designed to ensure restorative justice envisioned by South Africa’s new constitutional democracy. Victims of gross human rights violations were invited to share their experiences whilst the perpetrators of this violence were afforded the chance to give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. Which brings us to the Constitution.
In 1996, the Constitutional Court delivered judgement on the new Constitution. It was sent back to the Constitutional Assembly for amendment before it was finally approved by the Court in December. I was born into the year of rights. The year where we finally possessed a just, supreme law that affords us rights and protection that can never be legally taken from us like in the past. I was born into a world where discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, and many others was finally prohibited. Interestingly enough, although neither me nor my parents knew it then, this would one day protect me from the discrimination I might have suffered under apartheid.
In an effort to make justice more accessible, the Constitutional Court also adopted a broad approach to legal standing in the case of Ferreira v Levin. The Constitutional Court also found in Nel v Le Roux that it was constitutionally defensible to imprison a person in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act who refuses to furnish information about a crime, unless they have a “just cause”. No special protection is afforded to journalists or their sources in this regard, a fact I would one day discover as I study law and journalism myself. The aforementioned cases stand to this day. My father as a lawyer must have studied them intently at the time without a clue that I would be studying the same cases nineteen years later.
Which brings us to today. The year I was born was not just an uplifting year for my family as they welcomed me into the world, but also for South Africa as we welcomed a new constitutional dispensation, final in its content, structure, and operation. A supreme law to juxtapose apartheid and ensure that such injustice never occurs again.