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Former ConCourt judge Yvonne Mokgoro leaves behind a towering legacy of courage, determination and humility.

We gather here today to bury a great South African, a human rights defender, a prominent jurist and an icon of gender justice.

Through his life and his work, imbokodo Judge Yvonne Mokgoro was a pioneer.

In many ways, his legacy is a tribute to resilience, principled activism, and steadfastness, no matter how big the obstacle or how difficult the climb.

In 1994, since its creation, she became the first black woman appointed to the Constitutional Court.

Reaching that peak was not an easy progression. It was not easy.

It was the culmination of many years of hard work.

President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks at the funeral of retired constitutional judge Yvonne Mokgoro, held at Bryanston Catholic Church in Johannesburg, on May 23, 2024. (Photo: GCIS)

She found her calling to become a human rights lawyer in the trenches of the struggle, as a student activist and member of the African National Congress in the then Bophuthatswana, and later in the Northern Cape.

His appointment to the Constitutional Court was the product of many years of formal and self-taught study to improve and advance in the profession he chose.

It was the realization of a dream in which she never lost faith, even while working different jobs, such as a nursing assistant, retail salesperson and office worker.

It was a progression from a successful career as a legal academic when she conducted groundbreaking research into common law. All of this at a time when our jurisprudence and jurisprudence surrounding this issue were still evolving.

It was an achievement that came after decades of building a rigorous and demanding career.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo speaks at the funeral of retired constitutional judge Yvonne Mokgoro. (Photo: GCIS)

Justice Yvonne Mokgoro’s life was the life of countless black women in this country under apartheid, who bore the triple burden of race, class and gender.

She tried to make her way at a time when the odds were heavily stacked against women, and black women in particular.

And yet, he kept going with the courage, determination and humility that was his trademark.

Because she understood these struggles so deeply, because she had experienced them firsthand, Judge Mokgoro was such a passionate and ardent advocate for gender justice.

It is also the reason why she dedicated a substantial part of her time to training and mentoring young female lawyers.

In its tribute to the late Judge Mokgoro, the International Commission of Jurists described her as an inspiration to the next generation of women lawyers.

Justice Mokgoro brought this humanism and commitment to social justice to the Court.

In his ruling on the court’s first case, the momentous State v. Makwanyane On the death penalty issue, he expanded on the principle of ubuntu, describing it as “a shared value and ideal that runs like a golden thread across cultural lines.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa meets members of the Mokgoro family at the special official funeral. (Photo: GCIS)

During his tenure on the Court, in the public interest work he did after retiring in 2009, he remained steadfast in his view that respect for human dignity should be the basis of jurisprudence everywhere.

This understanding was applied in the positions he held within the United Nations system.

Between 2016 and 2020, Judge Mokgoro chaired the UN Internal Justice Council, whose task is to ensure independence, professionalism and accountability in the administration of the UN justice system.

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd in the United States in 2020, which gave rise to the global Black Lives Matter movement, the UN Human Rights Council created an Independent Expert Mechanism to promote racial justice and equality in the application of the law. Justice Mokgoro was appointed its first president.

As South Africa, we are immensely proud that our jurists are held in such high regard internationally on issues of human rights, racial discrimination and gender justice.

Together with his fellow justices, he affirmed that Ubuntu is intertwined with the rights to life, dignity and equality.

He wrote several rulings that promoted the socioeconomic rights of the most vulnerable in society.

Much of Justice Mokgoro’s academic research supported legal and policy transformation regarding the rights of women and children.

This work was wide-ranging, from the impact of social grants on the lives of destitute women to issues relating to customary law, inheritance and succession.

Mourners at the funeral. (Photo: GCIS)

Justice Mokgoro was both a witness and advocate for the transformation of the Court.

When she was appointed to the court 30 years ago, there were approximately 165 judges. Of them, 160 were white men, three were black men and two were white women.

Today, 45% of our judges are women and 32% are black women.

The late judge received many accolades during her illustrious career.

Her experience and expertise led to her being appointed to several advisory boards of entities working to promote human rights both at home and abroad, including the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

In recognition of his transcendental and extensive contribution to our country, he received the Order of the Baobab in 2015.

Judge Yvonne Mokgoro was a woman of indomitable courage and strength.

Just as we mourn her, we also celebrate her. As much as imbokodo Grinds, also calms.

She was an exceptional jurist who, together with her peers at the Constitutional Court, established the highest standards for the new democratic State. They are standards that we will continually strive to maintain, now and in the future.

And so, based on the words of John Donne, we say:

“Do not be proud of death, although some have called you powerful and terrible,
Because you’re not like that.
For those you think you’re going to overthrow
Do not die”.

The legacy left by Judge Yvonne Mokgoro is enormous.

To his family, we share your pain.

May you take comfort in knowing that Justice Mokgoro’s life and work continue to inspire and guide.

May we all have his courage.

May we all have your resilience.

I apreciate it. DM

Issued by the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa.

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