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Guest Speaker: Justice Zak Yacoob
It was a huge privilege to welcome Justice Zak Yacoob to the Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) recently.
His great nephew, Muhammed Ravat, a student at RNC, took the opportunity, whilst his great uncle was in the country, to invite him to the College to speak.
A retired Constitutional Court Judge, Zak, has been blind since infancy having contracted Meningitis. He grew up in South Africa, attending the Arthur Blaxall School for the Blind and went on to read English and Law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
‘I found university liberating. I joined left wing societies and clubs and did many radical things. I met my wife in the third year. I also became the only blind underground member of the African National Congress (ANC).’
Life wasn’t easy growing up at the time of apartheid in South Africa. At one point Zak found himself spending a few days in prison for wandering on to a beach for white people only.
Because of blindness, people would often assume he wasn’t capable or clever, but this worked to his advantage on several occasions, particularly when visiting Nelson Mandela in prison to pass coded messages right under the noses of prison security.
Zak has been underestimated many times in life. After graduating from university he sought an attorney to continue his training to become a lawyer. He was refused 35 times! He succeeded by doing work for free, saying:
‘As a blind person you have to demonstrate and walk the extra mile to prove your worth.’
He practiced as an Advocate from 1973 to 1991, defending political prisoners and challenging, on behalf of victims, detentions without trial and house arrests.
Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and worked with President de Klerk to end apartheid. This resulted in a multiracial general election, with Mandela leading the ANC to victory.
Zak was given Silk status by the President for exceptional skill, integrity and leadership in 1991 and practiced as senior counsel. In 1994, President Mandela, appointed a panel of independent experts to draft a new constitution for South Africa, to protect the rights of its people. He personally appointing Zak, who recalls:
‘Madiba called to see me. He always called me ‘Boy’ and said you have been very disciplined as an ANC member. You have the power to be independent and when you are part of the electoral commission I am instructing you not to take our [ANC’s] stance but be completely independent.’
Zak was appointed as a Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa in 1998 and became internationally renowned.
Now retired, Zak continues his work to create a just and equal society for his own fulfilment, saying:
'Take advantage of life, we are very privileged whether we have a disability or not.’
It was a great honour to hear Zak speak about his life and his professional experiences, which served as an inspiration to all in the room.
The event ended with a short Q&A session with many students coming up to thank Zak personally for his visit.
The event was a family affair, and we would also like to thank Muhammed, his father and grandfather for assisting with the visit. Farouq Ravat (Muhammed’s father) was able to support this very uplifting visit as part of a
Vodafone Business UK Charity Day
, for which we are very grateful.
Picture below shows student, Emma Stead, in conversation with Zak and Muhammed
Picture below shows student, Rowan Todd, in conversation with Zak