Newspaper clipping – The Pretoria News – 20 April 2010

Constitution to be a school subject?

A subject on relevant aspects of the constitution and its values offered at school should be more valuable and is likely to be more attractive than woodwork.

This call was made in Pretoria last night by Justice Yvonne Mokgoro who urged that the constitution become a school subject so that the country’s youth could have a better understanding about how the struggle against apartheid led to democracy. Mokgoro also issued a stern warning that citizens need to guard against any threats against the constitution. She was speaking after receiving an honorary Unisa doctoral law degree for her contribution to South Africa’s justice system.

Mokgoro, an award winning human rights activist and the current South African Law Reform Commission chairman, was appointed to the Constitutional Court in 1994. In accepting her degree and acknowledging other graduating students, she said, they (the students) were among South Africa’s privileged few.
“Although the constitution guarantees the right to a basic education, which includes adult basic and further education…the realization of that right is for many only an ideal, “ she said.

Hinting at the political turmoil the government currently finds itself in, Mokgoro said over the past few weeks,
“We have as a nation been confronted with a number of public incidents, which have questioned public knowledge and understanding of the relationship between the right to freedom of expression and the rule of law; public opinion and the judicial process; cultural rights and the authority of court orders – questions which arise in the context of the constitution.

The constitution is the foundation to our democracy and is the covenant, which binds us together as one nation. These incidents and the ensuing public debates highlight the important need for general public knowledge, understanding and appreciation for our constitutional project.

Although the struggle culminating in a constitutional democracy was a most important achievement in the history of South Africa, the importance of this achievement and its value for us…often seems to be lost sight of and fails to be treated with the necessary seriousness.

We, as citizens, have a duty to protect, nurture, preserve and sustain our democracy. Thus we need to popularize the constitution and its values, ideally at the earliest opportunity which is becoming ever vital,” she said, pointing to the critical gaps, which may exist in the country’s formal education efforts.

Questioning why efforts had not been made to formalize the constitution and make it part of the school curriculum, Mokgoro said it should be part of existing life-skills.                                 

“As citizens we must be fiercely jealous of our constitution. Any threat to it, however slight it may seem, must be worthy of our serious concern. Public knowledge and understanding of the constitution should not be approached with the view to preclude public debate, “ she said. (Graeme Hosken)