The EU Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa, Dr Cornaro
The Chairperson of the Foundation for Human Rights, Ms Mpumlwana, and Board Members of FHR
The Gauteng MEC for Education, Mr Lesufi,
Commissioners of the South African Human Rights Commission,
The CEO of FHR, Ms Sooka
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning to you all and thank you to the Foundation for Human Rights for organizing this event – it is one of many projects and programmes where our Department has partnered, very successfully, with the FHR over the years as we focus on making people more aware of their human rights and raising constitutional awareness.
The constitutional literacy animation programme, which we are launching today, is aimed at targeting high school learners and members of community based organisations to provide people with knowledge of the Constitution and the rights that they require in order to be able to live dignified lives and to hold government to account.
Some of you may ask, but what is so great about a Constitution – one cannot eat a Constitution, it’s only words on paper, so what does it really mean to my life?
Let me try and explain it in this way:
As we are gathered here this morning, not too far from here – in Sandton – many people are on their way to attend the public memorial service for Johnny Clegg who sadly passed away earlier this month.
Many of you may know him and his music, while some of the younger learners may not be so familiar with it.
In his teens, he wanted to get to know Black people and to be able to speak their language – and, in those days, this was not possible. The different races were kept separate from one another, in almost all aspects of their lives - separate beaches, separate schools, separate benches in parks and so forth.
He was 15 when he was first arrested for violating apartheid laws and meeting with people of different races. He learnt to speak Zulu and at the age of 17 he met Sipho Mchunu, a Zulu migrant worker, with whom he would later start the band, Juluka. His music incorporated traditional Zulu styles like maskandi and he learnt Zulu dance forms like the isishameni and indlamu. Juluka itself had 3 white members and 3 black band members.
As one media article said: here was a white South African musician who “dared to cross the racial divide to create and perform music with black musicians at the height of apartheid”.
It was unheard of at the time.
Sipho Mchunu says that despite the danger of being seen together they managed to make music. He says:
“I taught him on the pavement to play the guitar and the concertina.
That time was very heavy, the policies were very heavy... We couldn't walk together in the street, the police chased us, sometimes they put him in jail.”
So what changed our country from how it was then, to how it is now?
The Constitution did.
As the FHR’s KeepItConstitutional website (www.keepitconstitutional.co.za) explains, the South African Constitution lists the rights and responsibilities that all the people in South Africa have and are entitled to.
It is a very powerful document as it is the highest law of the land and everyone needs to follow its laws; the President, Ministers, members of Parliament, your parents and your teachers.
It is so powerful in fact that it affects you, your friends, your family, and everyone else in South Africa on a daily basis.
So why should you care about the Constitution? “All the people in South Africa” means everyone in South Africa, of all ages – not just adults. So, even as a child or a teenager, you have rights and people need to respect those rights.
In fact, everyone under the age of 18 actually has special rights – rights that adults don’t have. It’s important that people respect your rights. And with rights come responsibilities. So, equally important, you are also expected to respect others and their rights and to be a law-abiding member of society.
Knowing a bit about our Constitution means that if you don’t think you are being treated properly, or don’t like the way a situation is making you feel, you may actually be able to do something about it. By knowing your rights, you’ll know when someone is breaching or violating them.
If you think that your rights, or the rights of someone in your family, or a friend of yours, aren’t being respected there are a number of things you can do. If you look on the KeepItConstitutional website, there are lots of organisations in South Africa that help people to protect their rights and their contact details are on the website.
So the Constitution is a powerful document, and knowing a little bit about the Constitution gives you power. Power to take charge of how you’re treated in the world and how you treat others.
The authors of the Constitution had the vision of the kind of society they wanted to build.
The burning question we need to ask ourselves today is, have we succeeded in doing so?
Have we succeeded in becoming a truly non-racial, non-sexist democratic society? Are we truly united in our diversity?
These are some of the tough questions that we need to grapple with as we move forward as a country.
I’ve watched some of the episodes of the animation series on the website and I must say that I’m really impressed.
The animation series was designed as a response to a lack of constitutional knowledge in South Africa. The SEJA Baseline Survey tells us the likelihood of having heard of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights decreases with age: Of those who had heard of the Constitution, the majority (56%) of respondents aged 18 or 19 had heard of it at school, as had 44% of those aged 20 to 29. When looking at African respondents specifically, those aged 18 or 19 were almost twice as likely (57%) as those aged 70 or older (29%) to have heard of either the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
The animation series seeks to create an understanding of rights, and how they function. The series can be used in schools, by learners, by educators and by community based organisations.
Through a series of training workshops, educators and community based organisations will be empowered to provide lessons to learners and members of their organisations, based on lesson plans created by the FHR.
Some of the topics that are covered in the animation series include -
• The doctrine of the separation of powers;
• The right to dignity;
• The right to housing;
• The right to basic education;
• The right to potable water and sanitation;
• The right to freedom of expression;
• The rights of the child;
• The limitations clause.
The animation series does not shy away from dealing with difficult topics. Some of the episodes focus on sexual reproductive rights of women and unequivocally denounce gender based violence, racial intolerance, xenophobia and discuss discrimination targeting the rights of the LGBTIQ+ in an honest and sensitive manner.
In order to reach as many people as possible, a radio series covering similar content to that covered in the animation series has also been created. The radio series is intended to be broadcast on community radio stations and could be used when an educator or a school is perhaps not able to screen the animation series.
The animated episodes and the lesson plans have been translated into 4 languages and are available in English, isiZulu, Sesotho and Afrikaans.
You can watch some of the episodes on the website and if you have questions about the Constitution or about human rights, you send us your questions via WhatsApp on 076 176 0831 and your questions will be answered every Tuesday and Thursday between 16:00 – 16:30.
The focus of the series is on high school learners because by providing learners and youth with knowledge of their rights, the foundation for a life-long understanding of human rights and knowledge on how to access these rights is laid.
Beyond this, high school learners also offer a gateway to their families, often sharing elements that they have learnt at school with their siblings and parents, and thus further increasing awareness of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Programme Director, to conclude,
The animation series is a wonderful initiative and we know that it will assist our young people in getting to know more about their human rights and about the Constitution.
We know that human rights are indivisible, inalienable and interdependent.
So where do they begin, and where do we start be giving expression to these rights?
I think the answer lies in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, when she asks the same question -
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.
Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he or she lives in; the school or college he or she attends; the factory, farm, or office where he or she works.
Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.
Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”
You start where you are - in your home, in your school, in your community - and in so doing we can make human rights a reality for all in our country.
I thank you.