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Schools moot court competition a conveyor belt for a human rights-conscious population

15 Oct 2022

On Sunday 9 October, the South African Human Rights Commission, together with the departments of justice and basic education, hosted the final stages of the 2022 National Schools Moot Court Competition. The competition is a product of various stakeholders, including dedicated teachers, parents and officials of the organising institutions. However, the moot court programme is a conveyor belt for a human rights-conscious young populace, who are also future leaders of this country.

The programme is the brainchild of the late Professor Christof Heyns, who at the time envisioned a national schools programme that will prepare young minds to be leading academics and lawyers in society. Heyns also saw such a programme as a gateway to conscientise successive generations of young thinkers by introducing them at school level to our Constitution and its underpinning human-centred values. More than that, this programme forces young minds to ask pertinent questions about human rights and how best to apply the values of equality, freedom and dignity in their lived experiences.

As per custom, the preliminary oral stage of the competition was held at the University of Pretoria from 6 to 7 October 2022, while the finals were hosted at the constitutional court on Sunday 9 October 2022. At the seat of the apex court learners plead their case before judges, including sitting judges and other esteemed lawyers. During the early stages of the moot court process, learners from all corners of the country were required to write an essay, arguing a hypothetical case that concerned teenage pregnancy and its impact on the rights of the child, the right to privacy and access to education. This initial exercise gives an indication of the rigour of the programme. This exercise fortifies and hones the writing, research and analytical skills of the young participants.

Following a rigorous screening process, provincial rounds were held and learners were expected to orally defend their positions and essays on the subject of teenage pregnancy, the right to privacy and the expulsion of pregnant learners from school. This further challenged the learners to think on their feet and be creative in defending their positions. At the provincial stages, learners were assisted and judged by seasoned legal experts drawn from law societies, universities and Chapter 9 Institutions.

Drawing participants from various backgrounds and with varying interests, the competition presents a central human rights question imbued in a constitutional challenge, allowing for its participants to meaningfully interact with the Bill of Rights, some, for the first time.

In a country as diverse as ours, the competition enables young people to coalesce around a human-rights based culture and thereby begin to build a nation wherein diverse groups hold fast to values of democracy, dignity and respect for all. In the current global context where democracy and humanism are both being assailed by xenophobia and the rise of facism, among others, we should spare no effort to ensure our young people are equipped to defy global trends that portend to repeat the mistakes of apartheid.

Nsikayethu Secondary School from KwaZulu-Natal, represented by Nwabisa Mkhize and Amahle Ngubane, and Wynberg Girls High from the Western Cape, represented by Jessie Leigh Francis and Nicole Tamara Mufudze, took the coveted prize.

Mphaphuli Secondary School from Limpopo, represented by Mukondeleli Muthaphuli and Rudzani Namaranzhe, along with Golfview High from the North-West, represented by Palesa Bathobothle and Thato Pooe, were the runners-up.

Andre Gaum is a South African Human Rights commissioner responsible for basic education.

Source: Mail & Guardian

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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