THE BLOG
21/03/2018 09:54 SAST | Updated 21/03/2018 09:54 SAST

24 Years On, Are We There Yet When It Comes To Human Rights?

We need to reinvigorate the notion that human rights issues are tightly linked with equality, respect and dignity.

James Oatway/ Reuters

Human rights issues are tightly linked with equality, dignity and respect

Today, once more, we celebrate Human Rights Day, the day on which throngs of South Africans commemorate the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre.

UIG via Getty Images
The Sharpeville massacre occurred on 21 March 1960, at the police station in the South African township of Sharpeville in Transvaal (today part of Gauteng). (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)

These days, the fundamental rights of South Africans are enshrined in our Constitution under the Bill of Rights. But we need to ask the question: How far as a nation have we come in the protection of fundamental human rights, 24 years into our democratic dispensation?

Despite South Africa's strong protection of human rights, ordinary citizens continue to feel the gross violation of their rights. This manifests itself in the face of the brutal killing of Andries Tatane, the murder of Marikana workers and the loss of 144 patients in the heartless tragedy of Life Esidimeni – 24 years on.

South Africa's drive for human dignity and basic rights is premised on the development of the country and the improvement of the living conditions of the people. Yet we still observe the government's failure to eradicate 1,900 bucket schools throughout the country, which led to the death of a five-year-old child in an Eastern Cape school.

Added to this is the lack of access to quality education for the scores of children living with a disability. Can we consciously say that, as a country, we have the protection of the fundamental rights of the vulnerable at heart?

Put differently, can it be said that the Bill of Rights as enshrined in the Constitution, which affirms human dignity, equality and respect, has found practical expression when corrupt behaviour by those assigned with the mandate to deliver services to the people has reached such alarming proportions? These recent tragedies in our democracy are reminiscent of the acts of oppression inflicted on the people during the decades of racial misrule.

Sharpeville remains deeply embedded in many of our memories and similarly, in many areas, the evil consequences of apartheid remain clearly visible, 24 years into our democracy. On this day, we are called on as South Africans to remember where we have been and where we never want to be again.

How far have we come as a country in addressing the structural issues of inequality, poverty and unemployment?

Thousands of the untold stories of people killed that day, protesting against the unjust system that shut them out and defined their future based on race, persists in the democratic dispensation.

These people, all those years ago, wanted the same things we do today. They wanted to live a life of value. They wanted to escape poverty. They wanted the opportunity to work and earn a living. They wanted safety and stability in their lives. They wanted a future for their children.

As we commemorate Human Rights Day, we continue to witness regular angry and meandering marches against local councillors, from those in search of answers and the delivery of promises made by those in leadership. The feeling of exclusion by most communities is felt! The high rate of unemployment, which sits officially at 26.7 percent, has further invoked a sentiment of exclusion from the 1994 democratic settlement by poor communities.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Protesters hold placards and chant slogans outside the Bloemfontein Regional Court where people, who were arrested after armed police raided the luxury home of the Gupta family, are to appear, in Bloemfontein, South Africa, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The recent upsurge in violent protests against the lack of service delivery, as experienced in most townships and villages in the country, provides a space in which we have to ask tough and genuine questions. How far have we come as a country in addressing the structural issues of inequality, poverty and unemployment?

Has the democratic government addressed optimally the integration of previously marginalised communities, to exist side by side in an environment that provides opportunities for self-development, self-worth and dignity? Since the 2016 local government elections, violent community protest has been on the rise and much more pronounced.

These violent protests are the result of communities' dissatisfaction at the slow pace of delivery of basic services such as running water, electricity and sanitation.

The freedoms whose virtues we are extolling will be meaningless in the face of grinding poverty and underdevelopment as expressed by Madiba!

Compounding this is the slow pace of housing delivery, despite political promises during the election period that these issues would be addressed once the new administration was in place. In addition, rampant allegations of corruption and nepotism against those tasked with the delivery of infrastructure in communities has not helped the situation.

As we commemorate the struggles leading to the massacre on March 21 1960, we need to reinvigorate the notion that human rights issues are tightly linked with equality, respect and dignity.

It is in this context that the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, in partnership with government initiatives such as the Community Works Programme under the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, will be involved in various community initiatives that involve awareness raising, dialogues, school talks and workshops on gender-based violence and the effects of drugs and substance abuse.

These initiatives are aimed at restoring human dignity and social cohesion as part of human rights celebrations at a local level. It is the view of the centre that the freedoms whose virtues we are extolling will be meaningless in the face of grinding poverty and underdevelopment as expressed by Madiba!

Selby Xinwa is the Community Researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation