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Ramaphosa pays tribute to Justice Yvonne Mokgoro


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Ramaphosa pays tribute to Justice Yvonne Mokgoro

Image of Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa

23rd May 2024

By: Thabi Shomolekae
Creamer Media Senior Writer


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In reflecting on former Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro’s legacy, President Cyril Ramaphosa called on citizens to be reminded of their duty to help build a South Africa of true equality, of freedom and of human rights.

Mokgoro, who passed away in May 9 at the age of 73 in hospital, will be laid to rest in Johannesburg on Thursday. She has been honoured with a special official funeral category one.


Ramaphosa described Mokgoro as a pioneer, saying in so many respects, her legacy was a tribute to resilience, to principled activism and to steadfastness, “no matter how great the obstacle or how difficult the climb”.

In 1994, upon its inception, Mokgoro became the first black woman to be appointed to the Constitutional Court.


Ramaphosa noted that Mokgoro found her calling to become a human rights lawyer in the trenches of struggle, as a student activist and member of the African National Congress in the then Bophuthatswana, and later in the Northern Cape.

“Her appointment to the Constitutional Court was the product of many years of both formal and self-study to better herself and to advance in her chosen profession,” he said.

He highlighted that it was the fulfilment of a dream in which she never lost faith, even while working in a host of different jobs, as a nursing assistant, a retail salesperson and as a clerk.

“It was a progression from a successful career as a legal academic when she produced ground-breaking research on customary law. This all at a time when our jurisprudence and case law around this subject were still evolving,” said Ramahosa.

He explained that the life of Mokgoro was the life of untold numbers of black women in this country under apartheid, who he said bore the triple burden of race, class and gender.

“She sought to carve a path for herself at a time when the odds were stacked heavily against women, and against black women in particular. And yet she went forth with courage, with determination, and with the humility that was her trademark,” he added.

He highlighted that in its tribute to Mokgoro, the International Commission of Jurists described her as an inspiration to the next generation of women lawyers.

He said Justice Mokgoro brought this humanism and commitment to social justice to the bench, noting that in her judgment on the court’s very first case, the seminal State v Makwanyane matter involving the death penalty, she expanded on the principle of ubuntu, describing it as “one shared value and ideal that runs like a golden thread across cultural lines”.

During her time on the bench, in the public interest work Mokgoro engaged in after she retired in 2009, she was steadfast in her view that regard for human dignity should be the bedrock of jurisprudence everywhere, he said.

Between 2016 and 2020, Justice Mokgoro chaired the United Nation’s (UN’s) Internal Justice Council, which is tasked with ensuring independence, professionalism and accountability in the administration of the justice system of the UN.

“As South Africa we are immensely proud that our jurists are held in such high regard internationally on matters of human rights, racial discrimination and gender justice. Alongside her fellow other justices, she affirmed that ubuntu was interwoven with the rights to life, to dignity and to equality,” said Ramaphosa.


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