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Priscilla Jana South Africa’s Legendary Human Rights Activist

South African of Indian-origin Priscilla Jana has died at the age of 76 on Saturday, 10 October 2020. She is a legendary human rights lawyer and political figure of South Africa’s liberation politics.

Priscilla Jana was born in Westville, Kwazulu-Natal, to a middle-class Indian family. From an early age, she developed an awareness of inequality in South Africa. In her book Fighting for Mandela, she states that everyone who was not White suffered under apartheid. Her biggest influence was her father, a teacher who taught her to challenge social injustices whether these related to apartheid or to the Indian caste system.

In 1974 she graduated with a law degree. As a human rights attorney, her clients ranged from society’s most economically downtrodden to many noted political figures such as Nelson and Winnie Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada. She went on to become the personal attorney of Nelson Mandela and was one of very few South Africans to have had unique access to him during his imprisonment on Robben Island.

Priscilla Jana South Africa news
The renowned human rights lawyer has represented struggle activists former president Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Solomon Mahlangu. 

She defended ANC soldier Solomon Mahlangu and played a pivotal role in mobilising international support against his execution by the apartheid government. As his lawyer, she was among the last persons to see him going to the gallows and heard him saying, “Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight. My blood will nourish the tree that bears the fruits of freedom.”

Priscilla Jana played a significant role in anti-apartheid protest politics. She was a member of the South African Students Organisation {SASO}, the Black People’s Convention and the Federation of Transvaal Women [FEDTRAW]. Although she was banned by the apartheid government and her home was petrol bombed at some stage this did not deter on intimidate her – she continued with her activism against apartheid.

In the first democratic elections in April 1994, Priscilla Jana was elected as a Member of Parliament and played an important role in the drafting of our democratic constitution. Later she served as South Africa’s Ambassador to the Netherlands and Ireland. She was the Deputy Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission at the time of her passing.

In her autobiography Fighting for Mandela, she poignantly writes, “My entire adult life has been dedicated to dismantling the apartheid system and attempting to replace it with something wholesome and good for all South Africans. I cannot regret one minute of it.”

Her death has left a void in many whose lives she touched. May the soul of Comrade Priscilla Jana rest in peace!

Hamba Kahle Comrade Priscilla Jana!

Source: Ahmed Kathrada Foundation

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