Protecting South Africa’s artwork of democracy and reconciliation

Justice Edwin Cameron of South Africa’s Constitutional Court talks to senior correspondent Jeffrey Brown about the symbolism and importance of the high court’s art collection and the need to preserve it.

When the Apartheid regime fell in 1994, South Africa established the Constitutional Court. One of the original justices, Albie Sachs, began collecting artwork for the court, and the majority of pieces were donated by prominent South African artists.

According to Justice Edwin Cameron, the collection “symbolizes the best aspirations of our democracy, of reconciliation, of justice, and of transformation.”

Cameron, whose new book “Justice” illustrates the power and limitations of the law through his own personal experience, told senior correspondent Jeffrey Brown that the artwork is a tangible reminder of the country’s ideals.

“In our courtroom, we have the bricks from the jail which was right adjacent to a famous prison where Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, other political prisoners were kept,” said Cameron.

“We sit in the courtroom hearing argument on what our constitution means with our history seeping into our deliberations. And of course the artworks do exactly the same.”

The collection has been lauded by the international community. But after two decades, it’s at risk. It needs to be conserved and protected, much like his own country.

“After 20 years, we’re in a precarious position …. we’re struggling for the rule of law in so many parts of South Africa,” said Cameron.

He says the artwork is in a “precarious spot,” too. He’s “fighting for the artworks, but also fighting for the underlying project of making a viable democracy in our country.”

Jeffrey spoke to Cameron back in 2005 about his book “Witness To AIDS,” about his experience being HIV positive.

Support PBS NewsHour: