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Wits awards Gold Medal to SECTION27

- Wits Communications

Wits has awarded the University Gold Medal to SECTION27, a public interest law centre that works towards equality and social justice in South Africa.

Advocate Adila Hassim, co-founder and the Director of Litigation at SECTION27 accepted the medal on behalf of the centre. 

Hassim holds a BA LLB from the former University of Natal in Durban. She co-founded Corruption Watch and serves on its board of directors. She is a member of the Johannesburg Bar and has also acted as a judge of the High Court.

In 1998 Hassim was awarded the Franklin Thomas Fellowship to pursue an LLM at St Louis University in the USA, which she completed with distinction in 1999. 

In 2000 she was awarded the Rev Lewers–Bradlow Foundation Fellowship to pursue her doctorate in law at the University of Notre Dame. The doctorate was conferred on her with honours in 2006. Her dissertation was entitled “The protection of social rights in South Africa: From Theory to Practice”.

As a former Constitutional Court law clerk to former Deputy Chief Justice Pius Langa as well as then Acting Justice Edwin Cameron, Advocate Hassim has continued to passionately defend constitutional rights, and socio-economic rights in particular.

Advocate Hassim has led a number of significant SECTION27 cases in the pursuit of social justice for the most vulnerable communities in our country. She led the team that represented Sonke Gender Justice and the Treatment Action Campaign in the Silicosis class action suit against the 32 gold mining companies in South Africa.

She also led the team in the Limpopo Textbooks Case that was eventually heard in the Supreme Court of Appeal in November 2015. She is currently the counsel for several families in the Life Esidimeni case. Advocate Adila Hassim accepts the University Gold Medal on behalf of SECTION27

SECTION27, launched in May 2010, grew from the AIDS Law Project (ALP), a widely celebrated research, litigation and advocacy unit at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at the University of the Witwatersrand. Closely related to the Treatment Action Campaign (which it co-founded), the ALP was at the forefront of legal strategies and social mobilisation in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  Perhaps the most well-known of the ALP’s achievements is its driving role in TAC v Minister of Health, in which the Mbeki-government’s restrictive approach to the availability of antiretroviral drugs for the prevention of mother-to-child-transmission of HIV in public sector hospitals was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court. The ALP’s remarkable success as a public interest law organisation earned it many accolades and has recently been documented by Didi Moyle in the book "Speaking Truth to Power: The Story of the AIDS Law Project (Jacana Media, 2015)".

The ALP left CALS and Wits in 2007 to become an independent NGO based in Braamfontein. Initially maintaining its focus on the rights of HIV positive persons and the progressive realisation of the right to have access to health care services, the organisation soon found itself branching out to other socio-economic rights and on the strengthening of constitutional democracy more generally.  In line with this broadening focus, the organisation renamed itself SECTION27 (after the provision in the 1996 Constitution guaranteeing the right of access to health care services, food, water and social security) with a mission to function as a ‘catalyst for social justice’.

SECTION27 has made great strides towards realising this vision. It remains actively involved in the health sector, seeking to enhance the quality and affordability of health care services in the South African public and private health sectors.  Key work in this field has included monitoring the implementation of the National Strategic Plan on HIV, as well as efforts to strengthen the South African National AIDS Council. Crucially, SECTION27 has been at the forefront of efforts to strengthen the severely strained public health care delivery system, particularly (though by no means exclusively) in the Free State and the Eastern Cape provinces. 

Read the full SECTION27 citation.