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Closing Statement by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development of the Republic of South Africa, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, on the occasion of the Republic of South Africa’s Response on the Universal Periodic Review at the 41st session of the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group, held at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, 16 November 2022

Mr President,

We wish to thank the members of the Working Group for their insightful and constructive recommendations.

Today is the 16th of November, and those of you who are lovers of African literature may know that today is also the birthday of a leading figure of modern African literature, Chinua Achebe. In his leading novel, Things Fall Apart, he writes –

“A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound.

We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.”

That is why we come here, on a regular basis, every few years, to this Council.
We come together here, as kinspeople, because it is good for the world that we do. 

Every country has its own challenges, some facing more challenges than others, some having challenges that are unique and others with challenges that are common to many countries.

This gathering of member states, where we meet as peers, always brings with it a great sense of solidarity and of being able to learn from one another.

It also brings with it a sense of profound urgency.

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 provides us with an overview of progress on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

According to the Report, cascading and interlinked crises are putting the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 in grave danger.

The Report highlights the severity and magnitude of the challenges before us.

The confluence of crises, dominated by COVID-19, climate change, and conflicts, are creating spin-off impacts on food and nutrition, health, education, the environment, and peace and security, and affecting all the SDGs. The Report details the reversal of years of progress in eradicating poverty and hunger, improving health and education, providing basic services, and much more.

In short, the world needs urgent action in order to deliver meaningful progress on the SDGs by 2030. I would also venture to say that for developing world it is even more challenging and the consequences of failure will be dire.

Mr President,

We are committed to pay serious consideration to the UPR recommendations, to study them, to take them back home to our Government, to engage on them – amongst ourselves as various government departments and also with civil society – so as to see how best we can implement them in the betterment of our country and its peoples.

Our Constitution, which has been hailed as one of the most progressive in the world, enjoins us to work tirelessly for the advancement of human rights in our country. This we have to do whilst still trying to eradicate the legacy of our apartheid and colonial past.

Our Constitution compels us to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.  It necessitates us to free the potential of each person.

And we are making significant progress on many fronts.

According to figures from Statistics South Africa, released in June this year, the percentage of individuals aged 20 years and older who did not have any education decreased from 11% in 2002 to 3% in 2021.  Those with at least a grade 12 qualification increased from 30% to 50% over the same period.

Social grants remain a vital safety net, particularly in the poorest provinces. The rollout of the special COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress grant in 2020 has played a central role in protecting individuals and households against the loss of income during this period.  

Social grants were the main source of income for about one-fifth (24%) of households nationally.

The percentage of households with access to an improved source of water increased from 84% to 88% between 2002 and 2021.

Through the provision and the efforts of government, support agencies and existing stakeholders, the percentage of households with access to improved sanitation increased by just over 22 percentage points between 2002 and 2021, growing from 61% to 84%. 

A further report released by Statistics SA last month, indicates a steady increase in women's share in the working-age population over the last 5 years. However, a gender gap of 0,778 in monthly median earnings between men and women shows that there are still inequalities in monthly median earnings. Parity in earnings was only reached with tertiary education.

South Africa experienced an increase in the proportion of seats held by women in Parliament, from 33% in 2004 to 46% in 2019. Cabinet achieved parity in 2019. In the 2019 national and 2021 municipal elections voter turnout was highest among women.

Mr President,

I want to once again thank the esteemed members of the Working Group for their attention, their insight and their commitment to the UPR Process.

As we close our session, let us all be reminded of the words of another great African leader and thinker, Amilcar Cabral, when he wrote and stated –

“Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.”

We thank you.