Yvonne Mokgoro’s legacy is a tribute to resilience – Ramaphosa

A stand holding lit candles was placed next to the brown coffin covered in the South African flag, which was placed in front of the stage.

A bouquet of white flowers was set out on the platform beside large, framed pictures featuring the face of the first black female judge in South Africa’s democratic Constitutional Court.

Mourners, including her grandchildren, filed onto the stage one by one to offer their final respects to the late judge.

One of them required assistance from clergy members to get up on a plastic stool so he could speak about his beloved “Koko” from the podium, a moment that had the mourners in stitches.

These were the scenes that played out on Thursday morning at Bryanston Catholic Church in Sandton, Johannesburg, during the funeral service of the late retired Justice Yvonne Mokgoro.

Order of the Baobab

President Cyril Ramaphosa declared that Mokgoro, who passed away on May 9, and was an esteemed member of the Order of the Baobab, be honoured with a Special Official Funeral Category 1.

The distinguishing features of a special official funeral in this category include ceremonial elements by the South African National Defence Force.

Ramaphosa also delivered the eulogy at the funeral service.

Dignitaries who attended the funeral service included Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi, judges and former members of the Constitutional Court, members of the legal fraternity, academics, and religious leaders, among others.

Ramaphosa described Mokgoro as a great South African, a champion of human rights, an outstanding jurist, and an icon of gender justice.

“Through her life and through her work, Imbokodo [isiZulu word that means rock] Justice Yvonne Mokgoro was a pioneer,” Ramaphosa said.

“In so many respects, her legacy is a tribute to resilience, to principled activism and to steadfastness, no matter how great the obstacle or how difficult the climb.

“In 1994, upon its inception, she became the first black woman to be appointed to the Constitutional Court. Reaching that pinnacle was not a simple progression.

“It did not come easy. It was the culmination of many years of hard work.”

The triple burden of race, class and gender

Ramaphosa said the life of Mokgoro was the life of untold numbers of black women in this country who bore the triple burden of race, class and gender under apartheid.

He said: “She sought to carve a path for herself at a time when the odds were stacked heavily against women, and against black women in particular. And yet she went forth with courage, with determination, and with the humility that was her trademark.

“It is because she understood these struggles so keenly, because she had experienced them firsthand, that Justice Mokgoro was such a passionate and ardent advocate for gender justice.

“It is also the reason why she dedicated a substantial part of her time to training and mentoring young female lawyers.

“In its tribute to the late Justice Mokgoro, the International Commission of Jurists described her as an inspiration to the next generation of women lawyers.”Ramaphosa said Mokgoro was a woman of indomitable courage and strength.”

Mokgoro set the highest standards

Ramaphosa continued: “Just as we mourn her, we also celebrate her. As much as Imbokodo grinds, it also soothes. She was an exceptional jurist who, alongside her peers on the Constitutional Court, set the highest standards for the new democratic state.

“They are standards we will continuously strive to uphold, now and into the future. The legacy that Justice Yvonne Mokgoro leaves behind is a towering one. To her family, we share in your sorrow.

“May you be comforted by the knowledge that Justice Mokgoro’s life and works continue to inspire and guide.

“May we all have her courage. May we all have her resilience. May we all, in reflecting on her legacy, be reminded of our duty to help build a South Africa of true equality, of freedom and of human rights.”

Mokgoro was laid to rest at the Fourways Memorial Park in Johannesburg.

In April 2023, Mokgoro was involved in a car accident in the Northern Cape.

She was later discharged from a private hospital in Kimberley and flown to a Johannesburg hospital on an emergency basis to help her recover.

She succumbed to her injuries in the hospital two weeks ago. Mokgoro is survived by five children, six grandchildren and two siblings.


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