We often talk about constitutional awareness and human rights education as a “nice-to-have”, but not always as an absolute necessity.
But it is an absolute necessity. I would argue that the right to know about human rights is as fundamental as human rights themselves.
The world needs human rights.
It needs equality, freedom and human dignity more than ever.
All of us have been outraged and devastated by the recent Christchurch mosque attacks, where at least 49 people were killed and 20 seriously injured, after a terror attack targeting two mosques in the city.
The shooter allegedly released an 87-page manifesto filled with hatred and anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim views.
He live-streamed the attack on social media and, according to the BBC, the song which played in his car at the time of the attack was a famous Serbian nationalist song. The song praises the Radovan Karadzic, who was convicted of genocide and war crimes and the names of prominent Serbian nationalists and war criminals were written all over his weaponry.
Not long thereafter, an Australian senator - who openly opposes Muslim immigration to Australia - allegedly blamed the terror attacks on Muslim immigrants, saying:
"The real cause of the bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand."
Globally, racism and xenophobia, often cloaked in nationalism, is on the rise. The world is growing more intolerant, rather than more tolerant.
For us as South Africans, our country’s peaceful and negotiated transition from apartheid to democracy a quarter of a century ago was an inspiration to the world.
It brought black and white South Africans together after centuries of conflict to establish a new, united nation based on principles of equality and dignity.
In his inauguration speech in May 1994, President Mandela invokes images of each of us, like the jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld, being intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country and he speaks of a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.
As our nation marks 25 years of freedom and democracy, we are called upon to recommit ourselves, daily, to this vision of building a united, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous country in which all who live in it are not just entitled to equality, but experience equality in their daily lives.
As we celebrate and commemorate the 25th anniversary of our democracy, the 30th anniversary of the release of Rivonia triallists and the 55th anniversary of the Rivonia Trial, and as we also celebrate Human Rights Month, let us honour the legacies of Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni, Raymond Mahlaba, Ahmed Kathrada, Lionel Bernstein, James Kantor, Dennis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and so many others.
What all of these struggle heroes have in common is that they were striving for the same ideal: a nation built on democracy, freedom and equality, and a constitution to guarantee fundamental human rights.
Today we need to protect and promote those hard-won freedoms and human rights.
Part of doing so, means strengthening our efforts to improve access to justice and making people aware of their rights.
As much as our Constitution has been lauded across the globe as being a highly progressive and transformative one, a progressive Constitution alone will not realise rights if the people living within our country do not understand what it entails.
It is imperative for us to ensure that every person within our borders knows and understands the Constitution.
Human rights are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, but if we don’t make human rights and access to justice a reality on the ground, then we are merely going from talk shop to talk shop.
Human rights is not something limited to government only to do, it is the responsibility of all of us. Active citizenry has the greatest potential to protect and promote human rights.
This is where I want to highlight the important work being done by the Working Group on Constitutional Rights Education and others in helping our people to access their human rights.
The united society we seek is within our grasp; it starts with living our Constitution and working towards eradicating divisions and injustices, and together creating a more inclusive society and economy.Thank you.