Address by the acting Premier of the Northern Cape Province, Ms Grizelda Cjiekella, on the occasion of the Human Rights day celebrations - Memorial Lecture, Upington
21 Mar 2012
Mayors and Executive Mayors
In the memory of freedom fighters who paid the ultimate price
To the families of freedom stalwarts we are honouring today
Members of the Community of Upington and surrounding areas
Ladies and gentlemen
Today we are celebrating the 18th anniversary of Human Rights Day. This year also marks the 16th anniversary of the enactment of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, which gives full expression to our democratic ideals of creating a non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society.
Human Rights Day is a significant day on our national calendar of events and is relevant to us all for we can be assured that the human and fundamental rights and freedoms enjoyed by many around the world belong to us as well.
The universally recognised principle that human rights are non-negotiable in a constitutional democracy is based on the noble premise that “All men are created Equal”.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is generally acknowledged that all human are being born free and that they are equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason, conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Human Rights Day seeks to educate all South Africans about their human rights and obligations and make them aware of government services and programmes which give effect to ensuring that their human rights become a lived reality.
The Constitution places a requirement on the government to give effect to the Bill of Rights through the enactment of relevant legislation. The constitution also creates various institutions for the protection and support of South Africa's constitutional democracy. These include the Office of the Public Protector, the Commission on Gender Equality, the Human Rights Commission and the Commission for the Protection of the rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, amongst others.
Ladies and Gentlemen
The year 2012 is also a very significant year to all South Africans, because it marks the 100 years of the existence of the African National Congress, the oldest political organisation on African Soil.
Allow me to take this opportunity to wish Africa’s and our own biggest liberation movement and South Africa’s Ruling Party, the African National Congress well during its Centenary Celebrations. Indeed it is because of the strides made by this gigantic movement that we are able to convene today to reflect and celebrate who we really are as South Africans. This important national day affords us the opportunity to re-affirm who we are as a nation and what we stand for.
The 100 years celebration is an event of monumental significance in world history.
The history of 100 years informs us of the enormous sacrifices that our people have made to achieve our liberation and restoring our human dignity. Many people have sacrificed their lives in order for us to enjoy these rights today.
Our forebears sacrificed a lot so that we can today live in peace and dignity, in a free, non-racial and democratic South Africa.
The preamble of the ANC Constitution reads: "Whereas the African National Congress was founded in 1912 to defend and advance the rights of the African people after the violent destruction of their independence and the creation of the white supremacist Union of South Africa" and Whereas in the course of fulfilling this historic aim, the ANC has emerged to lead the struggle of all democratic and patriotic forces to destroy the apartheid state and replace it with a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa in which the people as a whole shall govern and all shall enjoy equal rights, and Whereas through the struggles and sacrifices of its members over the generations, the ANC has come to be recognised as the central organiser and inspirer of a vast popular upsurge against apartheid, involving a great array of social, cultural, religious, trade union, professional and political organisations”.
This gives special emphasis for the liberation of Africans in particular and black people in general from political and economic bondage. It makes a telling reference for uplifting the quality of life of all South Africans, especially the poor.
Ladies and Gentlemen
We are this year celebrating the National Human Rights Day under the theme “Working together to promote unity in diversity and human dignity for all”
However we in the Northern Cape, have also adopted our own unique theme to say that we are “Looking back a century lived and together working forward towards unity”
On this day we commemorate in particular the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which more than 60 unarmed men, women and children were shot and killed by the apartheid police during a peaceful protest march against the oppressive and undignified pass laws that were enforced against the will of the majority of people in this country.
The massacres in Sharpeville and Langa continue to serve as a historical reminder to all of us to make renewed and vigorous efforts towards protecting human rights and human dignity.
It is also befitting for us to remember the spirit of our fallen heroes and heroines such as Marcus Mbetha, Abraham Esau, Booi Mantyi, Lillian Ngoyi, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Solomon Mahlangu, Sizakhele Mbekushe, Tau Tikane, Thabo Moorosi, Litre Monare, Patrick Mogotsi, Boitumelo Mabilo, Gogi Modise and many, many others.
Most importantly, we have also dedicated this year’s Human Rights Day celebrations in the Siyanda District in memory of the late ANC stalwart, revolutionary and human rights campaigner namely, Tata Marcus Mbetha.
We salute Tata Marcus Mbetha for his courageous deeds and his selfless contribution in the fight against apartheid pass laws. Upon his joining Africa’s biggest liberation movement in 1944, Tata Mbetha met the likes of Govan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba, amongst others.
Although he left school because of police brutality in Standard (STD) 7, he managed to complete his STD 10 in 1949 after studying at a night school. He was arrested by apartheid police while in hiding in 1960 for taking part in collecting pass books from the people by night and taking them to Phillipi Police Station.
Ladies and Gentlemen
A hard working Marcus Mbetha had proven himself to be an outstanding organiser by recruiting 1237 members to the ANC in six months by himself, thus contributing immensely to the building of a strong ANC to advance the needs of the community. It was Tata Mbetha who said during one of his famous addresses after the 1999 elections “Now this time I intend to exhume the body of apartheid which was buried on the 27th April 1994 and transfer it into a steel coffin which will be welded all round, and instead of filling the grave with soil, I will order a ready-mix concrete truck to fill the grave with concrete, so that apartheid should never rise from the dead forever”.
Tata Mbetha was therefore active in the ANC his entire life. Another important lesson to learn from Tata Mbetha’s legacy, is the need to remain rooted in our communities and to respond to broader societal matters.
Tata Mbetha also served as a municipal councillor to contribute towards building strong local government structures to respond to the immediate needs of our communities. Local government is at the coalface of service delivery. It was at this level where he was instrumental in contributing to community upliftment and at the forefront of attending to the many problems our local communities experience on a daily basis.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms such as the right to life, liberty, security of person and the protection of the law, freedom of conscience, of expression, of assembly, association and movement; protection of private and family life, protection from discrimination, protection of the right to education and protection from inhumane treatment are all guaranteed by our Constitution.
I am encouraged by the progress made since the passage of the Human Rights Commission Ordinance in 2008. However I cannot help but reflect on the whole picture and recognise that the true test of the strength of our country’s commitment to human rights lies in the way we up-hold and put into practise the principles of human rights.
As a developing country, we are facing numerous challenges with some of these challenges being of our own making, while other challenges being as a result of the economic downturn in the world financial markets. We are facing the ever present threat to our individual rights to safety and security as we face an increase in criminal activity and a further violation of individual rights through the acts of human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and the persistent use of violence against our women and children.
These acts will only serve to further undermine our country’s security, peace and stability if left unchecked and unmanaged. Therefore it is essential that we support our Criminal Justice System and see each individual component as a vital mechanism for regulating our society and ultimately creating a society where all citizens are bound by the law, and guaranteed equality before the law.
As we face the daunting task of rebuilding our country and restoring hope, we must be mindful that a just and prosperous country can only exist where individuals have the possibility to enjoy human dignity with respect for equality, democracy, freedom of expression and for the rule of law.
These key components are the basis for the promotion and protection of human rights, with democracy being the only form of government that allows people to fully enjoy their human rights. However, in order for democracy to flourish, democracy needs an open society with, full transparency, must ensure fair treatment of its citizens, with equal access to employment opportunities and the freedom for one to express his/her opinion without fear.
Let us be reminded though, that whilst some Rights are inherent, most rights are not absolute, only a few rights are Absolute and Unqualified. Some of these rights are limited by laws which are reasonably required in a democratic society for the protection of others. For example my right to liberty is balanced by the government’s duty to lock me up if I commit a crime.
My right to free expression is qualified by one’s right not to have ones reputation defamed, my right to freedom of association and privacy does not allow me to create disorder. In essence individual rights and individual responsibility go hand-in-hand.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as our country continues to grow and develop, we must aim for and create a balance by providing an economic climate where the citizens of our country are able to realise and enjoy their rights and be allowed to meet their basic needs such as adequate housing, public health and medical care, education and the right to work with just and favourable working conditions.
To accomplish this, the government must ensure that the development process is sustainable and properly managed, for it is only through sustained development that the people of our country will be able to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a good quality of life without compromising the quality of life for future generations, which will ultimately ensure every person a life of dignity.
As we advance the objective of the infrastructure development programme as outlined by President Jacob Zuma, the province is vigorously pursuing the economic development of our province to address the challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Programme Director, Ladies and gentlemen
Since the dawn of our democratic society, government programmes have ensured that backlogs which were created as a result of apartheid are addressed and that access to basic service becomes a priority.
In 1994, only 62% of households had access to running water. By 2010, 94% of households had access to running water.
In 1994, only 50% of households had access to decent sanitation, but the figure increased to 80% by 2010.
It was only 51% of households who had access to electricity in 1994, but the figure reached 75% by 2010.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
During his address to the nation, President Jacob Zuma announced a one billion rand guarantee fund to promote access to housing loans to ensure that more South Africans have access to housing. Education, health and social assistance remain the largest categories of government expenditure demonstrating a commitment to improve the lives of our people.
Government investment on social grants to protect the most vulnerable members of society against abject poverty now stands at R105 billion.
These include child support grants, free basic water and electricity services and the schools nutrition programme. During 2011, a total of 365 000 people were employed. This is the country’s best performance since the recession of 2008.
Government departments have adopted a joint multi-disciplinary approach to deal with the cancer of corruption which undermines the realisation of the ideal of a better life for all South Africans.
Programme Director, Ladies and Gentlemen
The last few of years of our democracy have, at times, been characterised by acts of rape and abuse on women. To this end, government continues to roll out Thuthuzela Care Centres, the one-stop facilities introduced as a critical part of South Africa’s anti-rape strategy, in order to reduce secondary victimisation, improve conviction rates and reduce the cycle time for finalisation of cases.
Victim-Friendly Interview Rooms are being set up at police stations across the country to allow for victims of crime to be handled in a more sensitive manner. By the end of 2011, over 900 Victim Friendly Rooms were established.
Recent changes in government’s response to HIV have also been far- reaching, including state provision of treatment for all HIV-infected infants at government-run health facilities, and the provision of treatment and care to HIV-positive pregnant women earlier in their pregnancies to prevent new paediatric infections.
As I close my address let us all be mindful that the realisation of human rights can never be the sole responsibility of government. All of us must play our part in promoting human rights, the promotion of democracy, good governance and the rule of law which is the best guarantee of our own security and that of our country as a whole.
Former President and world icon once said “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another” President Mandela also continued to say “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the shadow of the valley of death again and again before we reach the mountain-top of our desires”
Let us in honour of Tata Mbetha and all the fallen heroes and heroines work together to defend our democracy and create a better South Africa, a better Africa and a better world.
I thank you.
Issued by: Northern Cape Education
21 Mar 2012
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