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Renowned Indian-origin South African human rights lawyer Priscilla Jana passes away

Renowned Indian-origin South African human rights lawyer Priscilla Jana who represented many anti-apartheid political leaders, including Nelson Mandela, has passed away at the age of 76, the country’s human rights commission has said.

She died on Saturday after a prolonged illness.

Jana, who had played a significant role against apartheid, was the Deputy Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

“South Africa has lost a giant, who sacrificed herself selflessly for us all to enjoy the fruit of the constitutional democracy that we enjoy today. As a Black female lawyer she overcame pernicious limitations imposed by the apartheid system that marginalised her on the basis of race, sex and gender and fought for the liberation of the then oppressed majority of South Africans,” the SAHRC said in a tribute on Saturday.

In early 60’s, Jana was granted a Government of India scholarship to study medicine in India where she completed studies in Inter-Science. She returned to South Africa in 1965 to complete a law degree. She started her own legal practice in 1979, focusing on civil liberties and human rights.

Whilst in India and soon after her return to South Africa, Jana played a significant role in protest politics against apartheid through various organisations at the time.

Among the renowned South African freedom fighters that she represented were anti-apartheid icon and late South African president Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisuslu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Meritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ebrahim Ebrahim, Solomon Mahlangu and Steve Biko.

Jana was also a member of the South African Law Commission and served as a member of the Advisory Committee to the President.

“As one of the most brilliant lawyers in our country, Pricilla Jana could have chosen to selfishly pursue personal wealth and material advancement. Instead, she understood her career as a calling—to serve the people of South Africa, especially the poor and powerless. She placed her skills and expertise in the hands of the liberation movement,” the African National Congress in its tribute.

After a period as a Member of Parliament in the democratic government following the election of Mandela in 1994, Jana served as South African Ambassador in the Netherlands and in Ireland.

“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,” Jana wrote in her biography, ‘Fighting for Mandela’.

In 2017, Jana received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Woza Awards, founded by lawyer Rahana Parker to create a platform for women in the legal fraternity to come together and acknowledge its achievers.