‘What is it that we are prepared to show bravery for? That we are prepared to make sacrifices for in order to take this country forward? Is this the country that they [Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge and other struggle heroes] really fought for?’
These were the tough questions posed by Justice Raymond Zondo, the Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa, while delivering the keynote address at the 16th Annual Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge Memorial Lecture and School of Law Student Awards Ceremony recently held on the Howard College campus.
Law students and graduates listened intently as the honourable Deputy Chief Justice Zondo, called on them to right the wrongs they see in the country today.
He paid a personal and heartfelt tribute to the Mxenges, revered struggle heroes who fought for liberation through their work as lawyers at the GM Mxenge and Company law practice.
For Zondo, his reflections on the Mxenges went beyond their contribution to the attainment of South Africa’s liberation. He spoke also of his personal journey, having cut his teeth at their Law practice where he says he was personally groomed and shaped by Ms Victoria Mxenge.
As a young Law student, Zondo determinedly set his sights on serving his articles of clerkship at the Mxenges’ law practice in 1985. ‘When Griffiths Mxenge was assassinated [in November 1981] I was still a student. I’d heard a lot about him and the high profile cases he’d worked on, representing freedom fighters who were involved in the struggle against apartheid…I was attracted to the kind of work the law practice was doing – the work of the struggle for the liberation of this country.’
‘Throughout the time doing my articles, Victoria Mxenge had confidence in me and this kept me going…her belief in me went a long way to making me the lawyer I turned out to be.’
Zondo spoke of the Mxenges’ unwavering commitment to the struggle for liberation and of the many sacrifices they had made. Both Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge were brutally killed by agents of the apartheid regime. ‘We enjoy the freedom we have today because of the bravery, activism, and commitment of the many people, dead and alive, who sacrificed a lot.’
Zondo said the memorial lecture is important in remembering these heroes but that this alone was not enough to honour the contribution they made: ‘Our country has a serious problem of corruption and I don’t believe we are doing enough to fight it. Each and every one of us has an obligation to identify the things we can do to bring down corruption and ensure that we help those that are less fortunate.’
Dean and Head of the School of Law, Professor Managay Reddi said ‘the Memorial Lecture was significant in saluting the Mxenges and the thousands of South Africans who not only lived their lives in the pursuit of freedom, dignity, and justice for us all but perished in the quest for these goals.’
The lecture was followed by the annual School of Law Student Awards Ceremony. A number of prizes, sponsored by some prominent members of the legal fraternity, were awarded to top performing students. High-achiever, Ms Kerrie-Lee Amanda Olivier, received eight prizes, including the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society Prize awarded to the Best LLB student, a Phatshoane Henney Group Honour Medal for achieving her LLB degree summa cum laude, and the Abel Torf Prize awarded to the Best Overall LLB student. Other prizes included the LexisNexis Prize for Best Research Masters student, awarded to Ms Karabo Elizabeth Hiine; and the Juta Prize, awarded to the Best Third Year student, Mr Suhail Ebrahim.
The event was attended by students, parents, staff, members of the legal fraternity, members of the Mxenge family and media representatives.
Words: Sejal Desai
Photograph: Alistair Nixon