Representatives of civil society bodies,
Representatives of various Chapter 9 bodies,
Representatives of various government departments,
Ladies and gentlemen, friends,
Good morning and welcome to everyone.
We are always pleased to be able to engage and interact with civil society role-players, with our Chapter 9 bodies and with other government institutions as we discuss the progress we are making in respect of the realisation of human rights. These consultations should not be a mere procedural formality nor should they be a tick-box exercise.
Our country reports need to be a proper reflection of where we have made progress in specific areas and where more still needs to be done. And therefore we need meaningful engagements with role-players such as those represented here today.
As you know, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) was signed by South Africa in 1994 and we ratified it in 1998.
In accordance with Article 9 of the Convention, South Africa has to submit periodic reports for consideration by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
This will be our combined ninth to eleventh periodic reports on the implementation of the specific rights provided for under Articles 1 to 7 of the Convention.
In particular, our report needs to describe the measures put in place by South Africa to address the suggestions and recommendations made by the Committee in its concluding observations. The concluding observations were made in 2016, following the consideration of South Africa’s combined fourth to eighth periodic reports in August of that year. The report also needs to provide information on progress in respect of the implementation of the Convention up to the end of 2019. The report was initially due in April 2020, but due the global Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying state of national disaster having been proclaimed in South Africa in March 2020, an extension has been granted.
When the South African government delegation appeared before the Committee in Geneva in August 2016, the Committee highlighted a number of positive aspects.
For example, the Committee welcomed our enactment of the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act as well as the enactment of the South African Human Rights Commission Act which strengthens the mandate of the Commission to monitor the implementation of and compliance with international and regional human rights instruments.
The Committee welcomed the progress made with the then draft national action plan to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, which was undergoing public consultations at the time.
The Committee also welcomed our ratification of a number of international human rights instruments, such as, amongst others, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in January 2015.
But, as the Committee does with all countries’ concluding observations, it also raised a number of concerns and recommendations.
It is these concerns and recommendations that we need to address in the draft country report.
One could well argue that racism, racial discrimination, racial tension and general intolerance seem to be on the rise – not only in our own country, but the world over.
Many parts of the world have seen a rise in right-wing political movements and so-called far-right populism.
If anything the world seems to be moving further away from multiculturalism, rather than towards it. And with the amplification of the far-right often come racist, discriminatory and/or xenophobic sentiments.
As a counterweight, we have seen movements like BlackLivesMatter, as a reaction and in response to violence often inflicted on Black communities.
Protesters around the world have been taking the knee, following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Taking the knee came about when American football player Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench during the playing of the US national anthem in a form of protest against police brutality and racism.
He later started to kneel and this has since become an international symbol of fighting racism and racial discrimination.
In our own country, the debates and discussions around BLM raise a lot of emotion – on both sides of the racial divide.
It is quite startling that when white people support BLM or acknowledge the existence of white privilege and admit that they benefitted from apartheid, other white people will, frequently and vehemently, simply dismiss them as “woke” – thereby dismissing the issue without having to engage with the subject or having to do any introspection themselves.
We see racism in all aspects of our lives as South Africans - in sport, in some schools, in tertiary institutions, in the way we respond to issues of land, in the way many towns and cities still have apartheid spatial planning and many other aspects of our daily lives.
When the state takes special measures, such as employment equity or broad-based black economic empowerment measures, it is often made out by opponents thereof as amounting to “reverse discrimination”, all the while knowing that our Constitutional Court has ruled, on more than one occasion, that such measures are indeed necessary to achieve equality and to reverse the inequalities of the past.
In our Equality Courts we have also seen an increase in the number of cases. A total of 621 new matters were registered in the 2019/20 financial year, as opposed to the 473 cases in the previous financial year - which is an increase of 31%.
Of the 621 cases, the majority (260) were based on hate speech, whilst the second largest number of cases (240) relate to unfair discrimination.
Because race still plays such an important role in our country today and because race permeates throughout areas such as land ownership, education, income and employment, we have sought to include these in the draft report.
In the concluding observations, the Committee raised a number of further issues that also require a response, such as, for example, ukuthwala, education, indigenous peoples, marginalised women and girls, and non-citizens.
Very important for purposes of today’s workshop, is the fact that the Committee recommended that we continue consulting and increasing the dialogue with civil society organizations working in the area of human rights protection, in particular those working to combat racial discrimination, in the preparation of this report.
The Committee also recommended that our country reports be made readily available and accessible to the public at the time of their submission and this is something that we shall do.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As we are preparing to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our Constitution, one has to agree with the CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission when he says that perceptions of racial superiority and inferiority still persist in our country as do the adverse effects of apartheid such as racial spatial planning and economic inequalities.
He is also correct when he says that we need more concerted efforts by all role players - government, the business sector and citizens - to address the challenge of racism.
I am confident that today’s interactions will be a step on our collective journey to challenge racism and racial discrimination.