Opinion

Thandi Modise to Edwin Cameron: 'Never was so much owed by so many to so few'

Thandi Modise to Edwin Cameron: 'Never was so much owed by so many to so few'

It is an honour for me, on behalf of Parliament to say a few words to celebratethe life and service of Justice Edwin Cameron.The preamble of our Constitution is inspirational. It says "We the people…respect those who have worked hard to build and develop our country… believethat South Africa belongs to all who live in it… (we are) united in ourdiversity".

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Justice Cameron's appointment asa judge – making this event a really deliberate act of coincidence.

I am not sure whether it is another deliberate act or a mere coincidence thatthe Constitutional Court made this event to coincide with a remarkable andhistorical day of Tuesday the 20th of August, 1940. For it was thisday (in 1940) that the then British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, madethe fourth of his famous war-time speeches, containing the line ,"Neverwas so much owed by so many to so few".

I make reference to this phrase because I believe, honestly so, that JusticeCameron is one of those "few" who have contributed so much to this, "ourso young" constitutional democracy.

Chief Justice, we can never forget the horror of the killing of Gugu Dlamini, ayoung woman who was stoned to death by a gang in her neighbourhood in KwaZulu-Natal.Gugu Dlamini died because she chose to reveal her HIV status on radio. The calmand deliberate public stance by Justice Cameron to challenge the negativeperceptions and stigmas around HIV and Aids, to stand alone in his field toeducate and lead the battle against HIV and Aids could not have come at abetter time. 

That public declaration earned him our respectand admiration. The real beneficiaries of this stance were the "faceless"thousands of families affected by Aids. That declaration eased the burdens ofsecret pain and helped lift shame and indignity brought by the ignorance andfear. Our nation could begin to breathe!

We agreed with former president Mandela when he hailed Justice Cameron as oneof South Africa's new heroes. Of course there were those who whispered, "Whatwas he thinking, coming out like that?"

We understood what you were thinking when we started following the logic inyour judgments in the various courts, we realised that Judge Cameron was, andstill is, an activist judge – an advocate for freedom of expression and association.

His judgment on the case of Holomisa vs Argus Newspapers Ltd was that Holomisawas not defamed by the papers printing that he was directly involved in theinfiltration into South Africa of an APLA hit squad. Newspapers could avoidliability if they showed that the decision to publish was made in a reasonablemanner.

Justice Cameron also penned the Liquor Bill judgment on Provincial Legislativepowers. The president had reservations on the constitutionality of the bill andtherefore had referred it to the Constitutional Court under section 79.

The Liquor Bill case assisted and gave guidance to Parliament on the scope andambit of the functional areas set out in schedule 4 and 5 of the Constitution.In this matter the court held that schedule 4 and 5 must be interpreted in thelight of the model of the Constitution and the manner in which the Constitutionallocates power to the different spheres of government.

From these two cases, I understood that the courts became more active in the applicationof rights horizontally in appropriate situations depending on the rights inquestion.

Ladies and gentlemen, the duty of the court is to do justice while exhibitingfairness, respect and dignity to the people who came before it. The judge is theFulcrum on which our justice system balances, that justice system is the cornerstone of our democratic nation.

Our democracy must rest on our national values of respect; dignity, Ubuntu andthe rule of law. Our Constitution is the bridge that must carry us from theinjustices of the past, to a society based on fundamental human rights, unitingus in our differences, uniqueness's and/ or similarities.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises that judges have the samerights as other citizens – they are entitled to freedom of expression, belief,association and assembly – provided that in exercising such rights, judgesshall always conduct themselves in such a manner as to preserve the dignity oftheir office as well as the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.

I suspect that all of us gathered here today can say you have done all of this! You have contributed to the development of our democracy, you have protectedour Constitution and therefore our freedom too. Indeed you have demonstratedcommitment to the weak and defenceless.

Enid Bagnold said, "Judges don't age, time decorates them". I agree,stay ageless in your judgments! As Parliament we wish you well and we hope thatyou will be able to catch up with what you have postponed in your personallife, while on service for our country.

I wish you a well-earned and restful retirement.

- Modise is the speaker of Parliament. This is the address she gave during the special sitting of the Constitutional Court on the retirement of Justice Edwin Cameron, August 20, 2019.

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