Ramaphosa officially opens the first high court in Mpumalanga
President Cyril Ramaphosa says the courts should not be used to fight battles where the state has degraded the rights of its people.
Speaking during the official opening of the Mpumalanga division of the high court in Mbombela on Friday, Ramaphosa said despite the state's efforts to better the lives of the people, they continue to see the socioeconomic rights of citizens being degraded by others, and “even more regretfully, neglected by the state”.
“This is a sobering reality that must give us cause for reflection here today," he said.
"Our courts face significant resource challenges and are already burdened with huge caseloads and backlogs as they strive to uphold the rights of our citizens.
"It should not be, indeed it should never be, that the time and resources of our courts are being used to fight legal battles when local, provincial and national government departments fail to meet their obligations and responsibilities to our citizens.
“At a time when the public purse is severely constrained, It should not be that claims against the state continue to soar, particularly cases of medical negligence in our public health facilities, but also against the South African Police Service (SAPS).
"This is putting immense pressure on provincial and national budgets. The actions of predatory law firms who exploit our people and take the lion’s share of payouts are worsening an already bad situation,” said Ramaphosa.
“We are fed up of municipal managers, provincial and national governments who hoard or fraudulently disburse service delivery budgets, and who do not uphold the Batho Pele principles in dealing with our people.
"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',” said Ramaphosa.
He said the court, which cost the state R1.4bn, is a new era which will see people accessing justice closer to them unlike before when they had to seek relief in Pretoria. The province since 1994 has been the only province which had never had a high court.
“This is not the last of iconic buildings we are going to put up here in Mpumalanga, more is coming to this province.
"In many ways this court represents a new era for the citizens and the people of this province who in the past had to travel long distances and hard terrain to get access to justice. Until now the people had to obtain relief in the high court in Pretoria, this caused hardships, lot of delays and huge economic hardships."
Ramaphosa said the country is committed to the advancement of human rights, of which the right to equality before the law, to equal protection of the law and benefit of the law, forms a critical part.
"We are here today to fulfill that promise,” said Ramaphosa.
He said this court needs to make sure that it shelters, it shades and it shields everyone regardless of social circumstances.
“Since the ushering in of democracy in 1994 we have prioritised the reform of our justice system to rid it of barriers to access to justice.
"Amongst 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.”
Ramaphosa said the court is expected to administer justice without fear or favour.
“Never and never again will the rights of our people be undermined by the courts.
"Today our judiciary is a fiercely independent arbiter in disputes, and plays an oversight role. It is representative of the people of this country and is committed to upholding constitutionalism,” said Ramaphosa.
He said gender-based violence survivors need to find justice from the court.
“It will also play a formative role in ensuring access to justice for survivors of gender-based violence. In time to come this court, together with other courts around the country, will be sufficiently resourced to expand the provision of services for women and children that respect their dignity and privacy,” said Ramaphosa.
Among the dignitaries were justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola, acting deputy chief justice Sisi Khampepe, Mpumalanga premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane, other ministers and members of parliament.