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Heywood gives graduates food for thought

- Kemantha Govender

Mark Heywood, one of South Africa’s most prominent social rights activists, posed important questions to graduates from the Faculty of Humanities.

“What are the moral and social responsibilities that fall on you as humanities graduates? As the authors of movements (#FeesMustFall/#RhodesMustFall) what are the responsibilities of this generation as individuals and as a generation going into the future?” He said he does not have the answers but wanted the recent graduates to think about these questions.

During his address Heywood said that humanities play a significant role in knowledge production.

“I hope that your views on humanities – on what constitutes good, morality or immorality – that you have held two or three years ago, have evolved and developed after your exposure and experiences (at Wits),” said Heywood.

He said the #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall activists put equality of access to education on the national agenda but this also has far-reaching and meaningful contributions to the non-racialism and equality in South Africa. He said that it is important to him because he works for an organisation which is named after a section in the Constitution that is trying to advance the right to basic education.

“We don’t do much work in tertiary education but we are trying to turn the words of the Constitution into a reality.” SECTION27 is a public interest law centre that seeks to achieve substantive equality and social justice in South Africa.

Heywood said the starting point is to recognise that we are living in a society that is rich in resources but our behaviour when it comes to corruption for example is no longer politically or economically sustainable.

But he is hopeful that we can get it right. Referring to the recent superhero movie, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, he said we should take heed of Batman’s call to take a stand and fight for justice together.

Heywood joined the AIDS Law Project in 1994 and in 1998 he was one of the founders of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).

He has continued to participate on the TAC Secretariat, National Council and Board of Directors. Heywood was elected and served as the deputy chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council in 2007 until 2012.

In 2009, he was also appointed as a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on National Health Insurance.

Heywood has written extensively on HIV, human rights and the law and has been part of the legal teams of the ALP, TAC and SECTION27 that have been involved in major litigation around HIV and other human rights issues in South Africa.

SECTION27 has recently been involved in litigation in the Supreme Court of Appeal to challenge the Department of Education’s appeal on the provision of textbooks in Limpopo.