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Centre for Human Rights visits African human rights icon Dr Vera Chirwa

9 May 2018 - Students on the Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa (HRDA) programme at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, recently visited the African human rights icon Dr Vera Chirwa.

On 15 April 2018, Professor Frans Viljoen (Director), Johannes Buabeng-Baidoo (HRDA Programme Coordinator) and three students on the HRDA programme (Hawi Asfaw fromEthiopia, Reshoketswe Mapokgole from South Africa and Urerimam Raymond Shamaki from Nigeria), paid a courtesy visit to the home of Dr Vera Mlangazua Chirwa in commemoration of her selfless service to human rights in Africa as well as her support to the Centre.

Born in 1932, Vera Chirwa is the first Malawian female lawyer. She founded the Malawi Congress Party and Nyasaland African Women’s League. Vera Chirwa fought for multi-party democracy in Malawi, thereby making her an enemy of the government of Kamuzu Banda. Tried, and convicted for treason and sentenced to death in 1983, she spent 12 years on death row. Released in January 1993, Vera Chirwa continued her struggle for human rights in Malawi and Africa.  Recognising her personal struggles and contribution to the field of human rights in Africa, Vera Chirwa was appointed as a Commissioner of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Conditions of Prisons in Africa, where she made immense contributions and reforms. 

The Centre for Human Rights Vera Chirwa Award 

Since 2006, the Vera Chirwa Human Rights Award has been awarded annually by the Centre for Human Rights, to the alumnus or alumna of the LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa, who best embodied the principles of the programme in his or her subsequent career by “making a difference” to the protection of human rights or the strengthening of democratisation in Africa. The following alumni are worthy recipients of the Vera Chirwa Award:

  • 2017: Melanie Smuts (South Africa) and Musu Bakoto Sawo (The Gambia)
  • 2016: Patrick Eba (Cote d'Ivoire) and Adrian Jjuuko (Uganda)
  • 2015: Prof Christopher Mbazira (Uganda) and Ms Salima Namusobya (Uganda)
  • 2014: Ms Leda Hasila Limann (Ghana)
  • 2013: Mr Augustin Kounkiné Somé (Burkina Faso)
  • 2012: Dr Lilian Chenwi (Cameroon)
  • 2012: Ms Monica Mbaru (Kenya)
  • 2011: Mr Thulani Maseko (Swaziland)
  • 2010: Mr Yoseph Mulugeta (Ethiopia)
  • 2009: Mr Gabriel Shumba (Zimbabwe)
  • 2008: Mr Julius Osega (Uganda) (posthumously)
  • 2007: Ms Nana Oye Lithur(Ghana)
  • 2006: Mr Melron Nicol-Wilson (Sierra Leone, LLM in Human Rights and Constitutional Practice, 1998).

As I sat across from her I wondered, what strength it takes -
in a world that said to be Black was to not human, let alone being a woman -
to strive for a fair and just world, as she did.
When we left her house, in our conversations it was clear what she reminded us of -
the fight for a better world is long from over, and we must follow from the sacrifices she has made, and continue on in the battle.”  

Reshoketswe Mapokgole (South Africa)

Prof Frans Viljoen showing Dr Vera Chirwa the Alumni Diaries

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