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Address by Minister Jeff Radebe to ANC Legal Research Group Workshop

19 September 2015, Da Vinci Institute, Modderfontein

Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the first workshop of the ANC Legal Research Group.

South Africa has just celebrated its 21st birthday on the road towards a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous country based on the principles of the Freedom Charter -and we are still growing.

In this context, the National Officials, at a meeting in October last year, applied their minds to the structure of our legal framework and jurisprudence going forward. They took the view that our jurisprudence had to reflect the demographics of our society and the value system of the democracy that we are aspiring towards. The construct of such a legal framework had to take on board the socio-economic challenges facing society; to ensure that justice could be accessed by all who live in South Africa; to stop the bleeding of the public purse through corruption and abuse and had to be premised on a strong foundation based on the rule of law, strong principles of governance and accountability.

The formation of the Legal Research Group was the result of this foresight.

The workshop topic, "the criminalisation of defamation" has an interesting history. It has been part of our common law for centuries and was imported into our law from Europe during the colonisation of our country. After the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994 ushered in a non-racial democracy, we took a major step to lay the foundation of our legal framework and Bill of Rights in a constitution that won international approval and respect.

We are a young vibrant democracy adapting to a changing world. To successfully adapt and ground our democracy in an environment where it can take root and blossom, we require the full support and contribution of civil society. In short, we need democracy in action. This workshop is a practical demonstration of a collaborative and solutions-based approach.

A growing democracy needs to be nourished by the principles of free speech and the free circulation of ideas and information. Criminal defamation detracts from these freedoms. No responsible citizen or journalist should be inhibited or have the threat of a jail sentence looming over him or her when making a contribution in the pursuit of building a strong democracy.

Against this backdrop, the African National Congress takes the view that criminal defamation is unconstitutional and inimical to our democratic development.

We endorse the recent public remarks of Judge Bernard Ngoepe, the South African representative on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, in which he persuasively argued that that there is no longer any place for criminal defamation in South Africa.

The ANC applauds the decision of the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court in 2014 to strike down criminal defamation.

The United Kingdom and leading South and Central American countries have removed criminal defamation from their statute books.

The Supreme Court of India is currently seized with the issue.

In pursuit of our own value system, we believe it is time for criminal defamation to be eradicated from our law.

The African National Congress implores this workshop to adopt a progressive approach.

In consultation with SANEF and the civil society organisations present in this workshop, the ANC undertakes to spearhead legislation through parliament to eliminate criminal defamation from our common law, thereby developing our common
law beneficially and securing a victory for the building of a strong and vibrant democracy underpinned by a sound legal foundation.

With these few words ladies and gentlemen, I officially open this workshop on behalf of the ANC National Officials and wish you well in your deliberations.