Flare FM is deeply saddened by the recent shocking news about the sudden departure of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Deputy Chairperson, and Commissioner Devikarani Priscilla Sewpal Jana.
It was confirmed that she passed away yesterday, 10 October 2020. Her departure is a great loss to the SAHRC and South Africa as a whole. She has contributed immensely to the democracy we enjoy today.
Mrs Jana studied medicine in India after being granted a Government of India Scholarship. She completed studies in Inter-Science and returned to South Africa in 1965. She opened her own law firm with a focus on civil liberties and human rights in 1975 after completing a Bachelor of Laws Degree at the University of South Africa.
She played a significant role in protest politics against apartheid and particularly opposing the apartheid Constitution of 1984, while she was still in India and soon after her return to South Africa. Mrs Jana was a member of the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO), Black Peoples Convention and the Anti-Constitutional Committee and Federation of Transvaal Women (FEDTRAW).
She represented Solomon Mahlangu in 1978 and played a pivotal role in engineering international awareness and protest against his execution, he was sentenced to death and eventually executed by the apartheid regime. Mrs Jana also took the South African and Dental Council on review in 1984, for its treatment of Steve Bantu Biko, who died as a result of police torture in prison. She also represented Ibrahim Ebrahim and took on international point of law and succeeded in having him returned to South Africa after being kidnapped by the South African apartheid regime in Swaziland.
She was at the forefront of defending human rights and she represented various prominent anti-apartheid activities including former President Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She also acted in many of the celebrated cases under apartheid, such as the State vs. Archie Gumede and others, the UDF Trials to name a few. She was also a member of the South African Law Commission and also served as a member of the Advisory Committee to the President.
From 2001 to 2005, she served as the South African Ambassador in the Netherlands and the Ambassador in Ireland from 2006 to 2011. From 1994 to 1999 she was a Member of Parliament. She was the chairperson of the Ad hoc Committee on the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and member of the Joint Committee on Public Protectors Interest.
In 2017, 03 January Mrs Jana joined the South African Human Rights Commission as its commissioner and Deputy Chairperson. She took responsibility for the Commissions’ Equality focus area, continuing her devotion towards ensuring South Africa’s transformation as a truly equal society irrespective of a person’s race, sex, gender or any other identifier.
At the age of 76, she continued to give of herself, still labouring tirelessly to substantively turn South Africa into a country where all people who live in it are equal, enjoying their freedom and innate human dignity.
May her soul rest in peace.