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22 November 2022
Reflections on Dullah Omar’s Legacy: Reimagining Democracy Through A Social Justice Lens
On 16 November 2022, Professor Thuli Madonsela delivered the 13th Dullah Omar Memorial Lecture. She addressed more than 250 guests and 200 online viewers on how democracy can be reimagined through a social justice lens.

Prof Madonsela focused on what she termed “the manufactured inequality” in South Africa and unpacked how substantive equality can be achieved, basing her arguments in law, history,, philosophy and economics.
Professor Thuli Madonsela delivering the Dullah Omar
Memorial Lecture

Dullah Omar’s widow, Farieda Omar, their family, friends and some of his former colleagues attended the lecture. During his welcome remarks, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius said: “This is a special occasion for the University of the Western Cape for many reasons. This lecture series allows us to celebrate and honour a man’s life for whom selfless service was a cornerstone of his being.”

He added: “I was a dean in 1990 and had the privilege to rub shoulders with Dullah Omar. Often his sharp intellect and his wit in senate executive meetings was something to behold.”

Prof Pretorius then questioned what Omar would have made of the current political dispensation: “As we gather here today to celebrate his life, I cannot help but think what would Dullah Omar, given his values, given his selfless struggle, what would he make of present day South Africa? What advice would he give to our government so that they can adjust the path that they are on currently?”

Madonsela delivered an honest and heartfelt speech about her assessment of current government policy implementation and the current systemic inequalities that exist.

She reminded the audience that she had worked in the Department of Justice in the early 1990s alongside Omar and that he had helped draft many of the statutes required after the drafting of the Constitution.
Dullah Omar’s widow, Farieda Omar and
Professor Thuli Madonsela

“He (Dullah Omar) looked to Sweden, Denmark and all of those social democracy countries for solutions on how to take South Africa forward. Justice Vision 2000 truly drove everything that we did at the Department of Justice. How we approached the transformation of the judicial system, how we approached the transformation of the legal services and how we approached the transformation of the laws themselves.”

Madonsela pointed out that equality and social justice are at the heart of what Omar stood for. “During his time many of the laws that were drafted were those that were required by the constitution. For example, the Equality Act, which was a partnership between Nelson Mandela and Dullah Omar himself.”

“Both of these leaders were system thinkers. Their understanding was that when a society is dysfunctional, it means the system is driving that dysfunctionality. So you can’t just fix your labour laws and fix BEE and then give others grants and say your system is going to equalise.”

The Dullah Omar Memorial Lecture series is an annual event that started in 2004 with the first lecture delivered by former National Director of Public Prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former President Thabo Mbeki, former First Lady Graça Machel, former Chief Justice Pius Langa and former Minister of Higher Education Naledi Pandor have been some of the keynote speakers at the Lecture Series over the years.

The Lecture was kindly sponsored by the Hanns Seidel Foundation and Webber Wentzel Attorneys.
Professor Thuli Madonsela with Dullah Omar’s widow, Farieda Omar, and the team from the Dullah Omar Institute