Honourable House Chairperson;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
South Africa commemorates human rights month in March annually, an acknowledgment that government has made strides to deepen freedom, democracy and human rights in our country.
It was former president, Nelson Mandela, the world’s most recognisable human rights symbol, who committed South Africans to the fight for attaining and preserving human rights, when he said the following:
“Thus shall we live, because we will have created a society which recognises that all people are born equal, with each entitled in equal measure to life, liberty, prosperity, human rights and good governance.” Close quote.
The ANC-led government, inspired by great leaders such as Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu, Ngoyi, and others, has lived to entrench a human rights culture in South Africa. Equally, South Africans themselves, have demonstrated a firm commitment towards protecting the gains of our hard earned democracy.
Honourable members, as you would recall, the apartheid regime deprived black South Africans their citizenship, and abolished their human rights. Apartheid left us with many scars which we continue to heal.
On March 21, 1960, the apartheid regime unleashed the most violent and brutal attack on masses of our people in Sharpeville. Their wounding and killing was as a result of them protesting in an absolute non-violent manner, and calling for an end of unjust pass laws and other draconian legislation that the apartheid regime imposed on Africans.
As they were chanting freedom songs such as Izwe lethu, awaphele amapasi, apartheid police officers opened fire unprovoked, to unarmed protesters killing 69 people and critically wounding scores of others.
The 69 heroes and heroines did not die in vain. The chapter of our freedom is not complete without mentioning them and their contributions. We honour them for laying their lives for freedom and democracy to reign in South Africa.
In addressing this painful legacy of the past, government has passed legislation which enhances human rights for all South Africans irrespective of race, belief, creed, sexual orientation and gender.
The Bill of Rights in our exemplary Constitution, enshrines the rights of all people in South Africa and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. The bill of rights applies to all law and binds the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, and all organs of state.
Government has also established institutions such as the South African Human Rights Commission, to adequately tackle all manifestations of human rights violations. So honourable members, our commitment to human rights is unwavering.
Last year, we commemorated 25 years of our constitution. It is fitting that this constitution, was signed into law by former President Nelson Mandela, in Sharpeville. As we go down memory lane reflecting how far we have come as a democratic country, and deliberating on how we can take our country forward, we commit to comprehensively address challenges facing our people such as poverty, inequality and unemployment. We also commit to deepen human rights in this great nation.
Some of the fundamental rights in the country are equality before the law and access to justice. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, has observed that high costs of litigation have a potential to deprive the poor access justice. This, if allowed to manifest, would be an impediment towards the realisation of human rights.
In this regard, we have through Legal Aid South Africa, sought to intervene to ensure that the poor and working class South Africans, have access to justice. Legal Aid South Africa has throughout the years, provided professional legal advice and representation to those who cannot afford legal fees including the poor and the vulnerable.
In the current financial year, we allocated a budget of R2 billion to Legal Aid South Africa to ensure that it reaches as many people as possible. We also ensured that legal representation in pursuit of land justice materialises, this will help to fight illegal evictions by landowners and farmers.
Honourable Members, we continue to appeal to the rest of the world not to perpetuate selective morality. Race should never be a factor when condemning violation of human rights and international law. House Chairperson, it can’t be correct that certain super powers turn a blind eye to atrocities in Africa and the Middle East, but unite in calling out for justice for victims of same atrocities in Western countries.
This disparity must immediately be brought to an end, all citizens of the world have equal rights. We call for continued dialogue between those in conflict and we are hopeful that through negotiations and mediation, an agreement could be reached.
Moving on to domestic matters, His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa was forthright when he said:
“We must rebuild a society that is far better than the one that came before it. We must become a society that is free from poverty, hunger and deprivation. We must become a society where women and children are free from violence, and where their rights are protected.”
This is clear line of March that should preoccupy all South Africans. We should all say it is not yet uhuru when we see our people walking long distances to fetch water, children walking long distances to attend school, our people excluded from the mainstream of the economy, our people being landless, our people facing hunger and starvation, women sexually violated, abused and killed.
Working together, we can address all these challenges. As government, we have exhibited commitment to fight and defeat the scourge of gender based violence and femicide, which continues to bring great shame to us. We have passed progressive legislation to strengthen the fight against gender based violence and femicide. The legislations are:
All South Africans must collectively say enough is enough, violence against women cannot be tolerated, it is a gross violation of rights enshrined in the constitution. We must draw a parallel between the fight against apartheid and the fight to end the scourge of gender based violence. The constitution protects all South Africans, especially the vulnerable.
Our constitution is a living document which entrenches and advances human rights. South Africans from all walks of life must through concrete actions, protect it. As we commemorate Human Rights Month, we unequivocally call for an end to abuse of rights of the LGBTQ Plus community. Our constitution prohibits unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Through our supreme law, the constitution, we commit ourselves to uphold human rights for all South Africans. This is in line with a clarion call by our forebears. Oliver Tambo on 01 June 1968, in a statement to commemorate Human Rights Year, said:
“Our fight is for justice. We cannot cease until we have won, as we will in time. And in achieving human rights for all in Southern Africa, we will be making a contribution to the fight for human rights and freedom the world over.” Close quote.
This statement by Tambo illustrates that the ANC was always on the side of the people, and fighting for their rights. However, today, we have yesteryear oppressors and those who were sympathetic to the apartheid regime, arrogantly acting as democrats and safeguards of human rights. They disguise their action as democratic but upon closer scrutiny, South Africans have unmasked these neo liberals for who they are, agents hell-bent on reversing what we have achieved.
These are the organizations who within their ranks, there is no space for black leaders to play any meaningful roles. They exclude black communities in areas where they govern and prioritize affluent areas for development. South Africans have long realized that these organizations are opposed to constitutionalism.
House Chairperson and honourable members, irrespective of behavior of organizations we have mentioned above, our constitution is a tool that should unite all South Africans and herald us to an inclusive society. It enables fundamental freedoms and guarantees our rights as citizens. But we need to remember that as we exercise our various rights, great responsibilities are upon our shoulders.
South Africans can only be inspired by ethical leaders who will root out corruption, malfeasance and maladministration. Corruption, if not tackled, can derail the gains we have made. Let us collectively reject self-preservation and acknowledge that human rights are our lifeblood. Any institution or persons seeking to undermine our hard earned rights should not only be rejected, but must face the consequences of attempting to undermine that which unites South Africans from all walks of life.
I thank you!