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Don’t trash institutions – Albie Sachs

- By Wits University

“Don’t trivialise the Constitution or Nelson Mandela…. Don’t trash our institutions…. And when you speak, speak with dignity, listen to others and create ensembles of debate and discussion,” Justice Albie Sachs told graduates today, 10 December 2014, during his acceptance speech after being conferred with a Doctor of Laws degree by Wits University.

Sachs said he is often asked whether the South Africa of today is the country he has fought for, to which he always replies: “This is the country I’m fighting for; but it is not the society that we wanted to bring about.” He urged graduates to especially respect and protect the institutions of democracy today.

“We fought so hard for them. Use them and use them well. Presidents come and go; Public Protectors come and go; Ministers of Justice come and go; but institutions remain. Institutions consolidate those things we were fighting for. Revere them and protect them. Build them up. Make them vibrant. Make them a source of energy, contestation, deeply imbued with the values of our society, yes, but don’t undermine them. Don’t ridicule them. Don’t deprive them of dignity. So much went in to creating them,” he said.

Lastly, Sachs also urged all South Africans to speak to and debate each other with civility and dignity. “If you have a good argument, you don’t have to bellow. You don’t have to shout, you don’t have to be disruptive to others. You listen to others,” Sachs said.

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Sachs was honoured during the December graduation ceremony for graduates in the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, in recognition of his “selfless dedication to human rights, and the expression in our Constitution of the democratic ideals for which he and many others fought. His enduring gifts to his country include a Constitution that incorporates the value system by which he lives, his progressive interpretations that meaningfully improve the lived reality of many South Africans, and his challenge to lawyers to explore innovative solutions to difficult problems.”