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Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity

Media Statement: SAHRC Mourns the Passing of Deputy Chairperson, Priscilla Jana

Attention: Editors and Reporters

Saturday, 10 October 2020

It is with great sadness and shock that the South African Human Rights Commission (the Commission or the SAHRC) has learnt about the passing of its Deputy Chairperson, Commissioner Devikarani Priscilla Sewpal Jana.

Today, South Africa has lost a giant, who sacrificed herself selflessly for us all to enjoy the fruit of the constitutional democracy that we enjoy today. As a Black female lawyer she overcame pernicious limitations imposed by the apartheid system that marginalised her on the basis of race, sex and gender and fought for the liberation of the then oppressed majority of South Africans. She continued to give of herself, well up until the age of 76, still labouring tirelessly to substantively turn South Africa into a country where all people who live in it are equal, enjoy their freedom and innate human dignity.

In her younger days, Mrs. Jana was granted a Government of India Scholarship to study medicine in India where she completed studies in Inter-Science and returned to South Africa in 1965. She completed a Bachelor of Laws Degree at the University of South Africa (UNISA). In 1979, she opened her own law practice with a focus on civil liberties and human rights.

Whilst in India and soon after her return to South Africa, Mrs. Jana played a significant role in protest politics against apartheid and particularly opposing the apartheid Constitution of 1984. She was a member of the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO), Black People’s Convention and the Anti-Constitutional Committee and Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW).

Mrs. Jana represented Solomon Mahlangu in 1978 and played a pivotal role in engineering international awareness and protest against the execution of Solomon Mahlangu, who was sentenced to death and eventually executed by the apartheid regime. In another historically significant matter, Mrs. Jana took the South African Medical and Dental Council on review in 1984, for its treatment of Steve Bantu Biko, who died as a result of police torture in prison. The Court ordered the Council to hold an investigation into the conduct of the doctors who were eventually found guilty of disgraceful conduct. She represented Ibrahim Ebrahim and took on international point of law and succeeded in having him returned to South Africa after being kidnapped in Swaziland by the South African apartheid regime.

During her illustrious legal career, Mrs. Jana, which was at the forefront of defending human rights, she represented various prominent anti-apartheid activists including Former President Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisuslu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Mrs Jana also acted in many of the celebrated cases under apartheid such as the State vs Archie Gumede and Others; the UDF Trials and the State vs Albertina Sisulu; and the State vs Zwelakhe Sisulu. At some stage Mrs Jana was also a member of the South African Law Commission and also served as a member of the Advisory Committee to the President.

Mrs. Jana served as South African Ambassador in the Netherlands from 2001 to 2005 and the Ambassador in Ireland from 2006 to 2011. Mrs. Jana was a member of Parliament from 1994 to 1999, serving on numerous Committees including: Portfolio Committee on Justice, she was the Chairperson of the Ad hoc Committee on the Ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Member of the Joint Committee on Public Protectors’ Interest.

Mrs. Jana joined the South African Human Rights Commission on 03 January 2017 as its Commissioner and Deputy Chairperson. She took responsibility for the Commission’s Equality Focus Area, continuing her devotion toward ensuring South Africa’s transformation as a truly equal society irrespective of a person’s race, sex, gender or any other identifier.

She tragically passed away on Saturday, the 10th October 2020.

– Ends –
Issued by the South African Human Rights Commission
Gushwell Brooks – Communications Co-ordinator Tel: 082 645 8573 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The South African Human Rights Commission.

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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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