President Cyril Ramaphosa says the official opening of the Mpumalanga High Court Friday marked a milestone, but that more needs to be done to broaden access to law.
He said the the opening is the fulfilment of government’s promise to ensure access to justice for all as people will no longer have to incur huge travelling costs to have their legal matters heard.
“Among these are the costs of obtaining legal representation, linguistic accessibility as well as accessibility for people with disabilities, lengthy delays and case postponements, backlogs in the court roll, and people having to travel long physical distances to reach courtrooms, as has been the case here in Mpumalanga.”
Situated on Samuel Machel Road, between the R40 and Kaapsche Hoop Road in Mbombela, the court will serve the people of Manyeleti, Bushbuckridge, Mbombela and Kromdraai in the Chief Albert Luthuli Municipality.
The courts are a place of refuge, that people turn to when their rights are denied, said Ramaphosa, adding that when they approach the courts it is their rightful expectation that they will receive justice.
“We are tired of contemptuous attitudes where civil servants treat people with arrogance when they demand their rights be respected: and who have the audacity to say: ‘If you don’t like it take us to court’”
“Enough is enough, Sikathele!”
The President continued: “And where court orders are issued against them, there must be compliance. Failure to do so leads citizens to lose confidence in the integrity of the judicial process – which in turn erodes the rule of law.”
“We are working towards a day when no citizen who has no water, and no toilets in their children’s schools becomes so frustrated that that they feel their only recourse is the courts.”
The President was joined by Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola and Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille at the official launch.
“This court must be seen as an agent of transformation and must set a high bar for jurisprudence. It must make its mark throughout the country,” said Ramaphosa.
Lamola added that the more than R1 billion state-of-the-art court must reflect the demographics of the country and effectively play a role in grooming black commercial lawyers and boost access for female litigants.
“We must see black professionals doing commercial law. For us as government, it’s very important that we groom a new generation of legal professionals.
“We have heard the cry of women practitioners across the country. They are complaining that their struggles are very difficult,” said Lamola.
Also in attendance was the National Prosecuting Authority’s National Director of Public Prosecution, Advocate Shamila Batohi, Acting Deputy Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe and Mpumalanga Division of the High Court Judge President Frans Legodi.
With courts as the vanguards of communities’ needs and concerns, Khampepe lauded the opening of the court as assurance that the notion of access to justice for all is taking shape.
“The establishment and opening of this court is a reflection of our steadfast commitment to the Constitution and its values. It is the manifestation of the constitutional promise. It is the symbol of access to justice,” said Khampepe.
The opening seals the last phase of the programme that ensures that a High Court is established in each of the nine provinces in South Africa.