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CESR pays tribute to Nelson Mandela


South Africa


As the world mourns the passing of South Africa's first democratically-elected president Nelson Mandela, CESR board member Geoff Budlender, who served as Director-General of the Department of Land Affairs under the iconic leader, pays tribute to his unparalleled contribution to the global struggle for social and economic justice.

I had the privilege of serving as head of a government department during Nelson Mandela's presidency. I learnt at first hand that he saw civil and political rights as indivisible from social and economic rights. He took the view that one of the purposes of political democracy is to achieve social and economic justice, and that social and economic justice is the best guarantor of political democracy.   

In the forward to a 2003 volume on housing rights, he argued with characteristically simple eloquence that the full range of human rights needed to be defended with equal vigour in order to meet the challenges of our globalized world. His words, as relevant today as they were ten years ago, stand as a fitting tribute to Mandela's enormous legacy to the human rights movement: 

"Wherever we go today, we hear talk of the globalisation of the economy and its impact on States. Globalisation has become a dominant feature of the analysis of international and national development. There is, however, another form of globalisation which could and should also have a fundamental impact on States. That is the globalisation of human rights. 

"Today, when we talk of human rights we understand that this discussion should not be limited to the traditional civil and political rights. The international world has gradually come to realize the critical importance of social and economic rights in building true democracies which meet the basic needs of all people. The realization of these needs is both an essential element of a genuine democracy as well as essential for the maintenance of democracy. In formulating our Constitution, we learned from the experiences of people in other countries who have struggled with similar problems. In this way and in other ways, our Constitution demonstrates the growing globalisation of the struggle for human rights."  

Nelson Mandela, from the foreword to National Perspectives on Housing Rights (edited by Scott Leckie, 2003)

Mandela's vision has been an inspiration to CESR's work over the last two decades. We celebrate the life of this great figure and will continue to strive for a world in which his vision is realized. 

* Geoff Budlender is a South African constitutional and human rights advocate, co-founder of the Legal Resources Center and former Director-General of the Department of Land Affairs under President Mandela. He is a member of the board of the Center for Economic and Social Rights.