Justice Yvonne Mokgoro says winning the coveted George Bizos Award strengthens her voice in fighting for social justice

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

Justice Yvonne Mokgoro a retired Constitutional Court Judge says that winning the George Bizos Human Rights award for 2022, will strengthen and amplify her own voice in continuing to fight for human rights. Justice Mokgoro was awarded this honour at a ceremony in Kramerville, Sandton, on Thursday, 15 September 2022, by The Legal Resources Centre (LRC).  The former Constitutional Court Justice was awarded, “for her remarkable leadership in the pursuit of equality and justice for all”.

In an exclusive interview with CITYLIFE/ARTS yesterday, September, 15, 2022, Justice Mokgoro expressed gratitude about being chosen for winning this award, a much sought after award in the judiciary in South Africa due to its prestige and integrity.

“Winning this award named after a person of integrity and honour, an icon committed to the fight for and protection for human rights and social justice, will assist me in amplifying my own voice, strengthening it in fighting for things I passionately believe in. Just like George Bizos fighting for human rights should not stop just because one has reached a certain age. For as long as there is energy in you, you have to continue to play that role in society. I am not a person who is inclined to stop fighting for social justice and human rights, especially for those who are vulnerable, simply because I have reached a certain age,” Justice Mokgoro emphasized.

Turning to the role that the late Bizos played in human rights protection in this country, Justice Mokgoro reflected that the example of sacrifice and level of commitment demonstrated by Bizos in fighting for social justice is worth emulating.

 Justice Yvonne Mokgoro (fourth from left) with other distinguished guests at the award ceremony last night in Sandton where she was honoured with the George Bizos Human Rights Award.  

“This is especially so because here is a man who left his country at the age of 13, coming from far away, to come here and ended up playing such an important role to improve and change the lives of many people through his commitment. He is indeed an icon. This is quite important especially in the context of the current migration patterns on the continent.”

The George Bizos Human Rights Award is conferred every year on an individual whose work and efforts exemplify the qualities and values for which George Bizos SC stood for: the pursuit of freedom, justice and democracy.

Bizos, who received the inaugural award named in his honour, died in 2020 at the age of 92. Justice Mokgoro is the third recipient of the award, following former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke in 2019.

A highly decorated and respected expert in constitutional law with a long history of championing human rights and social justice, Justice Mokgoro has received several honorary law degrees and has served on a number of boards, advisory committees and other bodies, including chairing the South African Law Reform Commission.

Thandi Orleans, chairperson LRC, Nersin Govender national director, Justice Yvonne Mokgoro with, Alex Bizos & Damon Bizos 

She was appointed as one of the first 11 justices of the Constitutional Court of South Africa by Nelson Mandela in October 1994. Since then, she has distinguished herself as both a judge and a scholar, presenting papers and addressing conferences on constitutional law, human rights and customary law, particularly on the impact of the law on women and children. Such is Justice Mogkoro’s international stature that in 2016, she was appointed chairperson of the United Nations Internal Justice Council.

She currently chairs the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Financial Services Conduct Authority Appeals Tribunal. Significantly, in 2021 Justice Mokgoro was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to chair the newly created Mechanism on Racism, Racial Discrimination and Inequality against Africans and People of African Descent in the Context of Law Enforcement, following the murder of George Floyd in the United States.

Said Justice Mokgoro on receiving the 2022 George Bizos Human Rights Award: “This is an immense honour for me, as I always greatly admired George Bizos’s unstinting commitment to human rights and share his passion for fighting for the underdog in society – the oppressed, the marginalised, the poor and the voiceless.

Thandi Orleans, chairperson LRC,  Nersin Govender national director, Justice Yvonne Mokgoro

“My wish is that this award will raise awareness for the need to stand firm against human rights violations in our own societies and the world over – not just in relation to our own rights but, more importantly, when it comes to the rights of others who are unable to fully share in what should be the bounties of their own democracies.”

LRC national director Nersan Govender said that Justice Mokgoro truly epitomised the spirit in which the award was founded: “Today we pay homage to an outstanding individual who, like George Bizos, is unwavering in her dedication to social justice work and the steadfast advancement of human rights in South Africa.

“We salute Judge Mokgoro’s commitment to democracy and constitutionalism through her activism and her legal work, which has always placed ubuntu at the nucleus of our jurisprudence. She has always generously availed herself and her extensive knowledge of the law to civil society organisations such as ours, and for that the LRC and broader society are immensely grateful.”

He added: “It is our hope that this award will continue to inspire those who are committed to the defence of human rights, locally and globally, and that it will remain a true testament to the legacy of George Bizos SC. We are especially proud to present this award to individuals who display remarkable leadership in the pursuit of justice by advocating for equality and the universal recognition of basic human rights as fundamental to true self-actualisation.”

The late George migrated to South Africa with his parents at the age of 13. The Wits law school alumnus went on to play an important role in the fight for freedom, including being part of the legal team that represented former President Nelson Mandela and others at the Rivonia Trial of 1963/64. He was a close friend of Mandela from their student days at Wits.

When he passed on, the celebrated legal brain was still active in civil society, especially in raising the bar when it comes to promoting public interest law. This is a role that fits neatly well into this year’s choice for this year’s recipient of  the George Bizos Human Rights award, Justice Mokgoro.

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