Law and freedom

Part 1 : who was Mrs. Komani?

One of the most important gains of the first ten years of democracy in South Africa has been the legal revolution brought about by the Constitutional Court, bringing to light the people who made possible the legal cases which have dramatically affected the lives of all South Africans. Landmark judgments included in part 1 are: the abolition of the death penalty and the case which led to the decriminalization of sodomy and the acknowledgement of the equality of gay and lesbian people. These judgments stand in contrast to the legal execution, harassment and persecution of apartheid era law.

However, even under apartheid, as human rights lawyer Geoff Budlender explains, “law was a limit on power”. One such case involved Mr. and Mrs Komani – a case in 1980 which led to the collapse of the hated Pass Laws. In 2005, we also celebrate the 25th anniversary of their remarkable legal victory which shook one of the pillars of apartheid.

Part 2: “A Nice Country!”

We meet courageous women and men who have used the legal space provided by the Constitution to build democracy and a better life for all. First, we meet Irene Grootboom whose struggle for housing culminated in a case before the Constitutional Court which is a landmark in the establishment of socio economic rights. In the case of Ngxuza and others v the Eastern Cape Provincial Government, we meet the Meltafas who even on the new democratic order had to challenge abuse of power when their grants were unlawfully withdrawn. A nice Country explores the case of the Treatment Action Campaign for the use of antiretroviral to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV. In this personal reading of the “Nevirapine case”, Zackie pays tribute to TAC members who used the Constitution to achieve access to life saving treatment – ensuring that we have, as one member comments, ” A nice country!”.