Ladies and gentlemen, friends
This past Thursday, 21 March, South Africa observed Human Rights Day.
On the same day, every year, the world commemorates the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The UN General Assembly proclaimed 21 March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to signify the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa and called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.
The theme of 2019’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is “Mitigating and countering national populism and extreme supremacist ideology.”
On the same day, Thursday last week, Time Magazine published an article called “Why White Supremacist Attacks Are on the Rise, Even in Surprising Places”.
In the article it talks about President Trump answering a question in a press conference following the terrorist attacks that targeted two New Zealand mosques and killed 50 people.
He was asked whether he thinks white nationalism is a growing global threat and, says the article, “he was dismissive: ‘I don’t, really,’” he said.
According to experts white supremacy is no longer a movement on the fringes but, the article states, “is being globalized at a very rapid pace”.
The article quotes the U.K.’s Home Office which reports that hate crimes there have surged following the Brexit vote in 2016 and a pro-immigration Member of Parliament, Jo Cox, was killed by a right-wing extremist a week before the Brexit referendum.
Europol noted that right-wing extremists arrests in Europe nearly doubled in 2017 over 2016.
In the US, November 2016 was the worst month for hate crimes since September 2002, with the day after the election, Nov. 10, being the worst day, with 44 incidences alone.
Furthermore, a 2017 ABC/Washington Post poll found 9% of respondents regarded Nazi views as “acceptable.”
Against this backdrop of growing global racial discrimination and intolerance, 2019 is also the year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
CERD has proven to be an effective tool, with many countries enacting national laws and policies for the prevention and eradication of racial discrimination and advancing the implementation of CERD goes hand in hand with advancing the Sustainable Development Goals.
Our very own National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (NAP) further exemplifies our commitment to our CERD obligations.
The NAP is an important tool to prevent and combat racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and other discriminatory conduct and forms of prejudice that we have been experiencing in our country recently - not only racism, but LGBI discrimination and anti-foreigner sentiments.
Cabinet’s approval of the NAP followed a rigorous process which was overseen by a Steering Committee comprising various stakeholders including government departments, Chapter 9 institutions, broader civil society organisations and other relevant role-players.
Inputs from the public were important in shaping the NAP, as a draft of the NAP was published for public comment during December 2015 with the public consultations phase launched in 2016.
Further engagements and feedback sessions were conducted during 2018.
The approved NAP, which will subsequently be deposited at the United Nations and will also be revised every five years, includes a targeted set of actions, interventions, measures and timeframes, with a proposed governance structure for the implementation of the NAP, as well as clear monitoring and evaluation arrangements and a reporting framework.
It sets out, in clear and practical ways, what government, civil society, the media, academia, business, labour and sporting and religious bodies have to do to combat and prevent discrimination and prejudice.
There is no doubt that we need the NAP.
Today we live in a country completely different from the one we had inherited from under apartheid.
Yet, despite our positive advances, the legacy of our divided past, in the form of racism, intolerance and discrimination, continues to undermine our nation.
Despite significant progress, too many people are victims of racial harassment and hate speech, because of the colour of their skin, their ethnic origins, their sexual identity and expression, disability or religion.
According to a report by the Hate Crimes Working Group, nationality‚ sexual orientation and religion were the top three grounds of hate crimes in South Africa.
At 59%‚ the research revealed that most victims of hate crimes were black or African.
Most of these victims were, however‚ non-South African nationals. Less than half (42%) of victims were born in South Africa. Twenty-eight percent originated from an East African country and 18% originated from a Central African country.
Hate speech also seems to be on the increase and the SA Human Rights Commission has stated that it will, on Wednesday, announce whether Julius Malema and other members of the party are guilty of hate speech.
The Commission has said it would release its findings, recommendations and directives on the various hate speech accusations and, importantly, discuss the findings in the context of hate speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the press in a comprehensive manner.
Ladies and gentlemen, friends,
We can pass laws against hate crimes and hate speech, we can launch a detailed plan such as the NAP, but we also need to change attitudes and perceptions within communities and within societies.
In particular, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and see how we debate issues of race.
As you know, singer Danny K recently teamed up with Kabelo Mabalane and with the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation as part of anti-racism week and they visited schools to speak about racism.
Shortly before that, Danny said on social media that, I quote,
“Not enough white people call out racism when it rears its ugly head. Yes it may be uncomfortable and yes you may be the singular unpopular opinion, but stand firm and have courage.”
He also mentioned a lack of empathy shown by many white South Africans and spoke about white privilege.
But it was some of the responses to his tweets that were particularly telling.
Many criticised him. Some accused him of seeking attention, with another singer commenting that "it's popular for a white guy to call out another white guy about racism for exposure".
Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille’s, first response was to reply to his tweet saying the singer should get 'some spelling lessons', because in one of the tweets he misspelt a word.
In my view, commenting on someone’s spelling is ignoring the point and it disregards the very real issues that his tweet raised.
But is what Danny K is saying incorrect? Is it untrue? No, it is not.
Should we not rather be engaging on the merits of what he said, rather than his spelling or simply becoming defensive or questioning his motives.
Should we not be debating these issues in a manner that takes us forward?
Let us have honest conversations in our places of worship, in our schools, our communities and among our friends to create the building blocks of social cohesion and common understanding.
The NAP will ensure that the concerns of individuals and groups encountering racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are more effectively addressed.
It provides mechanisms for documenting and monitoring such incidents and for ways to strengthen our efforts to combat it, such as identifying legislation that needs to be amended or adopted to protect victims.
It envisages awareness campaigns that encourage and inform the public of reporting incidents of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerances to the relevant authorities.
It also will establish a Rapid Response Mechanism to collate reported incidents of racism and other crimes of prejudice, the number of cases prosecuted, as well as the reasons for non-prosecution and the outcome of such cases prosecuted by the National Prosecuting Authority.
The NAP acknowledges that poverty, unemployment and inequality further entrench racial disparities and that we will not be able to rid society of racism, unless we manage to address the racial nature of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Government will use the NAP to raise awareness of anti-racism, equality and anti-discrimination issues among public officials, civil society and the general public.
It gives effect to the prescripts of the Constitution which enshrine the rights of all people in our country and affirm the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
We’ve just concluded a four-day long celebration of human rights at the Human Rights Festival at Constitution Hill, where our Department and many of you here today also participated.
What the Festival - through its various social forums, films, theatre and poetry activism forums, book and art exhibitions - once again reaffirms is that the united society we seek is within our grasp; it starts with living our Constitution and working towards eradicating divisions and injustices.
Our Bill of Rights seeks to create a society where freedom reigns and the rights of individuals are protected. These rights were fought for by many brave South Africans who sacrificed everything so that we can enjoy them today.
As we celebrate Human Rights Month we pay tribute to those put their lives in danger for the sake of freedom and human rights for all.
One struggle hero who greatly assisted us in shaping the NAP was Ahmed Kathrada.
This coming Thursday it will be two years since Uncle Kathy left us, when he passed away on 28 March 2017. His was a life dedicated to the struggle for freedom, for human rights and for non-racialism.
At the launch of the NAP’s national consultative dialogues in 2016, Uncle Kathy said:
“Every action, even speech against racism, is important. I must say the organisers must be congratulated for a very timely initiative. As I said, this is the beginning, much more has to be done at every level of the society. This cannot work on its own. …. It can’t be done by one organisation. It needs to be taken to trade unions, schools. It’s a major initiative and it is welcomed.”
We want to launch this NAP in honour of Uncle Kathy.
Today we are free because of the sacrifices Uncle Kathy, and so many others, made for our freedom. Their lives inspires all of us to do the same – to uphold the human rights of others.
Their sacrifices are a reminder that South Africans need to be united on all fronts if we are to foster greater social cohesion, address the scourge of racism and strive for inclusive nation-building.
If Uncle Kathy were here today, as we launch the NAP, I’m sure he would remind all of us of his words when he said -
“The fight for non-racialism, equity and equality is not short-term work, but generational work. It requires a united effort, and a lifetime of commitment.”I thank you.