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Transforming Society

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Restoring Dignity

Tributes pour in for the 'people's lawyer' Priscilla Jana

13 October 2020

Durban - TRIBUTES have been pouring in for renowned human rights lawyer Priscilla Jana, who died on Saturday, aged 76.
The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said the country “has lost a giant who sacrificed herself selflessly for us all to enjoy the fruits of the constitutional democracy that we enjoy today”.
The commission said that as a black female lawyer, Devikarani Priscilla Sewpal Jana, who was born in Durban on December 5, 1943, overcame pernicious limitations imposed by the apartheid system that marginalised her on the basis of race and sex, and fought for the liberation of the then oppressed majority of South Africans.
Jana joined the commission on January 3, 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,” the commission said.

“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, and enjoy their freedom and innate human dignity,” the SAHRC said.
Outlining her career, the commission said in her younger days, 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 then completed a Bachelor of Laws degree at the Unisa.

In 1979, she opened her own law practice with a focus on civil liberties and human rights.
While in India and soon after her return to South Africa, Jana played a significant role in protest politics against apartheid, and particularly in opposing the apartheid constitution of 1984.
She was a member of the SA Students’ Organisation, Black People’s Convention and the Anti-Constitutional Committee and Federation of Transvaal Women.

Jana represented Solomon Mahlangu, an uMkhonto we Sizwe operative, in 1978 and played a pivotal role in engineering international awareness and protest against the execution of Mahlangu, who was sentenced to death and eventually executed by the apartheid regime.
Jana also took the SA Medical and Dental Council on review in 1984 for its treatment of Black Consciousness leader Steve Bantu Biko, who died as a result of police torture in prison in 1977.
The court ordered the council to hold an investigation into the conduct of the doctors, who were eventually found guilty of disgraceful conduct.
In its tribute, the ANC said Jana’s determination to fight apartheid saw her joining its underground networks.
“During the 1980s when the regime was unleashing some of its most vicious and repressive machinery against the people, Priscilla Jana was one of the few progressive lawyers who provided free support to detainees,” the ANC said.
The ANC said she was the personal attorney of former president Nelson Mandela during his incarceration on Robben Island.
“It has been said of Jana that ‘at one stage she represented every political prisoner on Robben Island’. Her selfless and unwavering opposition to apartheid and commitment to the reconstruction and development programme is an example worthy of emulation by all those who consider themselves patriots.”
On Twitter, Gauteng ANC deputy chairperson and Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi paid a personal tribute to Jana.
“Today, the people’s lawyer, an underground operative, ambassador and a freedom fighter, left this world forever. Without her determination the regime was hell bent to harm us and who knows what was going to happen to us.
“I was just 19 years (old) when the apartheid regime picked me up from my hiding spot. For 3 days no one knew where they kept me.
“It took this brave woman to force the regime to declare my whereabouts after they’ve tortured me. Go well Mbokodo, Go well Cde Devikarani Priscilla Jana!”
Jana served as South African Ambassador in the Netherlands from 2001 to 2005, and the Ambassador in Ireland from 2006 to 2011.
She was a Member of Parliament from 1994 to 1999, serving on numerous committees.

Source: The Mercury

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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