Champion of Human Rights Honoured

Champion of Human Rights Honoured

The legacy of late Professor Tony Mathews lives on in the pages of a book: Law, Order and Liberty: Essays in Honour of Tony Mathews, launched by UKZN’s Faculty of Law in October.

Fine scholar and champion of human rights, Professor Mathews contributed tremendously to the University. During his long academic career he wrote on subjects including criminal law, constitutional law and the law of property.

Mathews was a founding member of the South African Journal on Human Rights and established the Centre for Criminal Justice (CCJ) in 1989 together with Professor John Milton. The Centre was formed in response to the failure of the system to deal effectively with the political violence in the greater Pietermaritzburg area.

UKZN Law academics Professor Marita Carnelley and Professor Shannon Hoctor are the editors of the book published by UKZN Press which contains contributions from a number of authors including local and international law academics and members of the legal profession Professor George Devenish, Professor John Dugard, Professor Cora Hoexter, Professor Michael Kidd, Professor David McQuoid-Mason, Professor Pamela Schwikkard, Professor Avrom Sherr, Professor Hugh Corder, Professor Marinus Wiechers, Professor Jan Froestad, Professor Catherine Mathews; Mr Justice Plasket and Mr Justice Davis; Dr Ann Skelton; Ms Winnie Kubayi; and Mr Clifford Shearing.

The editors describe the book as follows in their preface: ‘Tony Mathews’ principled and powerful critique of the apartheid laws that negated human rights and eviscerated the legitimacy of the South African legal system remains as a monument to both his moral courage and his legal brilliance. His compelling defence of the rule of law and his unremitting championing of the cause of human rights inspired a generation of law students and practitioners in the darkest days of apartheid.’

Speaking at the launch, Professor Hoctor related how Mathews’ teachings, lectures and writings resonate today. ‘I was very impressed by the calibre of people influenced by him and the essays they wrote based on his principles. They have taken his writings and linked them to current debates and contemporary issues that are still relevant. It is important to remember him because his work helped to provide the context and framing of the constitution. The debates he raised back then are still ongoing in our democracy and still need to be addressed,’ explained Hoctor.

For Professor Carnelley, it was about remembering what Mathews represented and honouring his memory. ‘The aim of the book is to look back in history and see where we come from so that we can see when those problems might reappear again. Tony had courageous scholarship and a great intellect coupled with true passion, and we all ought to aspire to that. If he were here today he would be distraught at the possible threats to the rule of law,’ said Carnelley.
Guest speaker Professor Cora Hoexter, who teaches in the School of Law at the University of Witwatersrand and Johannesburg, took as her topic the ascendancy of the rule of law.

‘It is an appropriate topic because Tony Mathews spent much of his working life exploring the content of the rule of law and its possibilities, including the ways in which it could be made to counter oppressive legislative and executive action and strengthen the response of the courts. Although he did not live to see South Africa’s constitutional democracy, his work on the rule of law and related aspects of constitutionalism truly made him one of the architects of South Africa’s democracy.

‘That is a point made by Marinus Wiechers in his personal tribute to Tony Mathews in this book, as well as by several other contributors. Tony Mathews criticised what he knew to be wrong and stood up for what he knew to be right. We are called upon to do the same, and we can do no better than to take him as our example,’ said Hoexter.

The CCJ continues to serve the community today and adhere to the teachings of Mathews. The Centre is committed to the furthering of human rights through the law, directing its skills in the area of criminal and social justice towards the understanding and the solution of local community problems, focusing on challenges within the justice system.

The Centre’s Director and contributor to the book, Ms Winnie Kubayi, was taught by Mathews but never imagined she would be walking in the footsteps of that giant.
‘It is an honour to follow in his footsteps. He lectured me in Property Law, but at that time I did not know that he would bequeath me his legacy. That is why 21 years on the Centre still going strong. The Centre not only benefits the Faculty of Law but the community and rural areas as well,’ said Kubayi.

‘We have 15 centres which are run by paralegals where people can vindicate their rights and hold public figures accountable. Tony was very passionate about training people and sharing skills. He created a network where people would be trained and could go back to the community and share what they had learnt. As a leader, I am trying to carry on what he started,’ said Kubayi.