On Saturday 7 May 2011, the Centre for Human Rights Commemorated its 25th anniversary in an informal lunch for current and former staff members and their families at the Pretoria Country Club.It was a fabulously festive event with over 150 guests including staff, board members, friends and institutional supporters of the Centre from all over South Africa.
There were very few speeches, with only the three directors speaking informally in the order in which they served at the Centre. Prof Johann van der Westhuizen (1986 – 1998), now Justice of the South African Constitutional Court, spoke of the climate of fear and oppression in which the Centre was established in 1986 and reminisced on the courage and daring of those Faculty members who took the bold step to contemplate a Bill of Rights for South Africa. Prof Christof Heyns (1998 – 2006), now UN Special Rapporteur for Extra-Judicial Killings, spoke of the twin values of excellence and Ubuntu, which have ensured that the Centre’s programs have remained both cutting-edge and focused on improving the lives of people everywhere. Prof Frans Viljoen (2006 – present) spoke of the staff, past and present: of their vision and dedication however big or small their project, however long or short their stay.
As the longest serving member of staff, Isabeau de Meyer, who was officially the Centre’s first employee and who is still at the Centre, was singled out for particular recognition. Although no single project has lasted 25 years, the African Human Rights Moot Court Competition remains the quintessential pan-African human rights educational initiative, bearing the hallmarks of innovation and international recognition. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary celebrations, the Moot provided copious anecdotes, which provoked memories and drew laughter from everyone present.
There was a wonderful atmosphere, with children running around, and a spectacular commemorative cake. It would be fair to say that everyone present was delighted to return to a place where they all have roots and to see that it remains a place where dreams continue to be born and where young people still find challenge and opportunity. There was a clear sense that all those who have walked through the Centre’s doors have added colour to thetapestry that is our collective history. Today, it is symbolised in the butterfly logo that has become the Centre’s standard, a mark of quality that is recognised and respected across our nation and our continent and beyond.