Willie Hofmeyr's insights into 1980s ANC debate for individual rights

Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions Willie Hofmeyr talks to Karima Brown (standing in for Redi Tlhabi) on the Afternoon Drive to talk about the path South Africa has travelled to the constitutional democracy we now have.

A lawyer by training, Hofmeyr has been a long time activist involved in the struggle to end apartheid and was intimately involved in crafting the Constitution.

He explained the important focus during the negotiations and the discussions for the creation of the Constitution.

I think the Bill of Rights was really one of the key issues in the Constitution.

Willie Hofmeyr, activist and now Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions

It became very important for the ANC, in the context where the national party really wanted group rights entrenched in the Constitution, and the importance of the bill of rights debate was to persuade National Party and pressure them in the negotiations to see that all rights would be protected.

Willie Hofmeyr, activist and now Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions

He says it was important to have them see that there was no need to entrench group rights with the entrenchment of all sorts of privilege and other things that would go with it.

But, he says, it was also a debate within the ANC itself where individual rights were not always historically seen as a priority.

Hofmeyr says it was OR Tambo who asked that the ANC begin drafting a Bill of Rights for the organisation.

In fact, a charter of rights goes back well over a century, says Hofmeyr, so it had been a long debate over the importance of protecting the rights of the individual.

I think there was some skepticism still in the 70s and 80s about whether individual rights would entrench racial privilege, even group rights in a sense.

Willie Hofmeyr, activist and now Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions

He explains that at the time it was far more accepted within the country as progressive academics such as Halton Cheadle and Dennis Davis were writing about the strong case for a bill of rights.

He also explains the important focus on socio-economic rights and this distinguished the South African Constitution as a groundbreaking document.

Take a listen:


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