Google "Human Rights" and the search engine will in less than a second produce 480-million website links, articles and definitions.
Most of the definitions describe "Human Rights" as fundamentally based on the principle of respect for the individual. The central assumption is that each person is a moral and rational being who deserves to be treated with dignity. They are called Human Rights because they are universal. Whereas nations or specialised groups enjoy specific rights that apply only to them, Human Rights are the rights to which everyone is entitled — no matter who they are or where they live — simply because they are alive.
Our own government informs us, via its website, that Human Rights Day is a national day that is commemorated annually on March 21 to "remind South Africans about the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for the attainment of democracy in South Africa".
It goes on saying that the day is to "commemorate and honour those who fought for our liberation and the rights we enjoy today.
"The Constitution is the ultimate protector of our Human Rights, which were previously denied to the majority of our people under Apartheid. We commemorate Human Rights Day to reinforce our commitment to the Bill of Rights as enshrined in our Constitution."
It is heartening that our government recognises that our Constitution is an ultimate protector of our Human Rights, rights that were previously denied to the majority of our people. This makes the calls from some quarters to water down, revisit or even recall the Constitution dangerous and against everything we fought for.
Going down this path will place us in the league of other Human Rights denialists such as US President Donald Trump, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Russian President Vladimir Putin, to mention a few.
Our own President Jacob Zuma has already been found wanting by the Constitutional Court.
Almost a year ago to the day, on March 31 last year, the Constitutional Court held that the National Assembly's resolution, based on the Police Minister's findings exonerating the President from liability in relation to the multi-million rand so-called security upgrades at his Nkandla homestead, was inconsistent with the Constitution and unlawful. The Concourt also held that, by failing to comply with the Public Protector's order, the President failed to "uphold, defend and respect" the Constitution because a duty to repay the money was specifically imposed on him through the Public Protector's constitutional power.
The court further declared the conduct of the President and the National Assembly inconsistent with their constitutional obligations.
This is a blot that will forever remain against President Zuma's name.
Human Rights Day should be a painful reminder of our brutal past. On March 21, 1960, the apartheid state brutally murdered 69 people in Sharpeville, resulting in untold pain for thousands of families.
Human Rights Day 2017 is for us a burning reminder that for many, many of our compatriots, Human Rights is simply a definition on a website, it is a not a lived reality, it is not a fruit of freedom they have come to enjoy.
Our dear Nelson Mandela, the embodiment of compassion and Human Rights told us that he had discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, "one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended."
Today, in honour of Madiba and the sacrifices of so many including Ahmed "Uncle Kathy" Kathrada, Steve Bantu Biko, Ruth First, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Rahima Moosa and so many others, we dedicate our remembrance of Human Rights Day to their sacrifice.
We will not linger, we understand that freedom comes with responsibility and we will not rest until:
- No more Michael Komapes fall and drown in pit toilets because building safe toilets is simply not a priority.
- No more Nyiko Mahlawulis have to study on their beds and pass seven matric subjects with one textbook.
- No more Virginia Machpelahs are sent to fly-by-night "mental health" NGOs such as Precious Angels, only for her sister to be told she had died a week earlier and that they had struggled to reach them.
- No more Tobeka Dakis die because of greedy pharmaceutical companies.
- No more elderly community health workers are arrested and put on trial like dangerous criminals for holding a peaceful prayer vigil.
- No more people living with HIV and TB arrive at clinics only to be told there are no drugs.
- No more money meant for health and education for poor people ends up in the pockets of corrupt politicians and their sidekicks.
- No more blind learners are deserted with no learning material, no Braille textbooks and no means to become equal humans.
- No more migrants and refugees are treated with hate.
- No more people give birth to children with intellectual disabilities because an ambulance did not arrive when it was called.
- No more people who rely on social grants spend weeks deeply concerned whether they will receive their money, while arrogant politicians and greedy private companies play games in court.
Only when these and all other rights necessary for human dignity and equality are achieved, can we truly say we are a nation who respects and honours human rights for ALL who live in our country. Until then, we dare not linger, for our long walk and those of our compatriots is not yet ended.