Priscilla Jana. Picture: SUPPLIED
Priscilla Jana. Picture: SUPPLIED

Acclaimed human rights lawyer Priscilla Jana has died. She was 76.

Jana, who represented many political activists and detainees during apartheid, counted former president Nelson Mandela and freedom fighter Solomon Mahlangu among her clients.

“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 SA, especially the poor and powerless,” ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said in a statement.

“During the 1980s when the regime was unleashing some of its most vicious and repressive machinery against the people through successive states of emergency and trampled upon the rights of activists, Pricilla Jana was one of the few progressive lawyers who provided free support to detainees,” he said.

Jana served as an MP during democratic SA’s first parliament, from 1994 to 1999. She became ambassador to the Netherlands between 2001 and 2005, and then to Ireland between 2006 and 2011. She became deputy chair of the SA Human Rights Commission in 2017. The commission described her as a lawyer who had given tirelessly of herself to fight for the rights of the oppressed under apartheid, and then laboured to “turn SA into a country where all people who live in it are equal, enjoy their freedom and innate human dignity”.

Jana chronicled her role in fighting apartheid in her book  Fighting for Mandela, in which she wrote: “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.”

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