Address by Mr. Andries Nel, MP, Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, on the occasion of Yom Ha’Shoah ("Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day"), at the Rebecca Street Cemetery in Pretoria
22 Apr 2012
Programme director, Chairperson of the Pretoria Council of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, Adv. Lawrence Nowosenetz;
Excellencies Ambassadors and High Commissioners and other members of the diplomatic corps;
Governor of the Reserve Bank, Ms. Gill Marcus;
Rabbi Gidon Fox and other religious leaders present;
Members of Parliament, former Minister Hon. Ben Skosana and Connie Zikalala of the Inkatha Freedom Party
Former Member of Parliament, Mr. Les Labuschagne, representing the Democratic Alliance;
Members of the SA Human Rights Commission,
Officers, members and veterans of the SA National Defence Force,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Brothers and sisters,
I am deeply honoured by being asked, by the Chairperson of the Pretoria Council of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, to convey a message on behalf of the government of South Africa on this solemn occasion of Yom Ha’Shoah, Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day.
Five days hence the people of South Africa will recall in celebration that day eighteen years ago when, on 27 April 1994, the human dignity of millions of South Africans was affirmed as, collectively, we exercised our fundamental human right to determine our destiny through our first democratic elections.
We celebrate this day as Freedom Day.
A fortnight after that historic day, President Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the first democratically elected President of South Africa on 10 May 1994.
He ended his inaugural speech with these moving words, and I quote, “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”
Indeed, as the people of South Africa we have, since that historic day, adopted a Constitution in which we say that we recognize the injustices of our past, that we honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land, that we respect those who have worked to build and develop our country and that we believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity and that, therefore, we adopt the Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights, lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law; improve the quality of life of all citizens and fee the human potential of each person and build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
In pursuance of this vision, we have passed laws, transformed existing institutions and created new institutions such as the Constitutional Court, Equality Courts, the Human Rights Commission, the Public Protector, the Commission on General Equality and others to ensure that, indeed, never, never and never again will we experience the oppression of one by another.
As we prepare to celebrate Freedom Day, we recall that 27 April, when it does not coincide with Shabat, is also the day, decided upon in 1953, that people across the world say, “Never, never and never again” as we commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Ha’Shoah.
The horrors of the Holocaust were meticulously and movingly documented by those outstanding Russian intellectuals, fighters against fascism and partisans for peace and social justice, Vasily Grossman and Ilya Ehrenburg in their work, The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry.
In his preface to this moving collection of eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, Vasily Grossman writes that the victory over fascism was not only a military victory but a victory of the power of progress over the power of reaction.
He says, and I quote, “It is a victory for democracy and humanity, a victory for the idea of the equality of all people. The defeat of fascist Germany in war is not only a military defeat of fascism. It is the defeat of the ideology of racist terrorism. It is a defeat of the ideology of the domination of the “master race” over the people of the world.”
He concludes his preface by expressing the hope that, and I quote, “May contempt for the terrible ideas of racism live eternally in the heart of humanity. May the memory of the suffering and the agonising death of millions of murdered women, children, and old people be preserved forever. May the holy memory of those who were tortured become the formidable guardian of good; may the ashes of those consumed in the flames find their way into the hearts of the living and call forth the brotherhood of people and nations.”
However, as former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, soberly reminds us, and I quote, “Many thought … that the horrors of the Second World War – the camps, the cruelty, the exterminations, the Holocaust – would never happen again. And yet they have. In Cambodia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Rwanda. Our time – this decade even – has shown us that man’s capacity for evil knows no limits. Genocide … is now a word of our time, too, a heinous reality that calls for a historic response.”
Indeed at the very moment that we in South Africa were experiencing the freedom and dignity of holding our first democratic elections in 1994 our brothers and sisters in Rwanda were experiencing the horrors of genocide.
The struggle to ensure that never, never and never again shall there be oppression of one by another, that the holocaust and genocide will not be repeated must be a struggle of eternal commitment and vigilance.
On 1 November 2005 South Africa joined in support of UN General Assembly Resolution 60/7, which was passed unanimously, and commits the nations of the world to, amongst others:
- Reaffirm that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice
- That the United Nations will designate 27 January as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust;
- Urge Member States to develop educational programmes that will inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide,
- Reject any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or part;
- Condemn without reserve all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur;
- Request the Secretary-General to establish a programme of outreach on the subject of the "Holocaust and the United Nations" as well as measures to mobilise civil society for Holocaust remembrance and education, in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide;
In this regard we recognise and commend the work of the South African Holocaust & Genocide Foundation, which strives to further Holocaust education, also in our schools, in order to:
- Support the building of a human rights culture and to encourage respect for diversity;
- Develop an understanding of the past so that the moral and ethical issues raised can be instructive in dealing with contemporary human rights abuses, for example xenophobia, racism and bigotry;
- Honour the memory of the millions of victims of Nazi persecution and the six million Jewish victims of Nazi Genocide;
- Encourage social activism and a greater individual responsibility to building the community; and
- Encourage empathy and compassion and a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.
We commend the attention given by the Holocaust Foundation also to the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.
The struggle to ensure that never, never and never again will apartheid, the Holocaust and genocide afflict humanity is also the struggle against impunity.
In this regard, South Africa played an active role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court, established by the Rome Statute in 1998.
At the outset of the negotiations leading to the adoption of the Rome Statute, then Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said, and I quote, "In the prospect of an international criminal court lies the promise of universal justice. That is the simple and soaring hope of this vision.
We are close to its realisation. We will do our part to see it through till the end. We ask you . . . to do yours in our struggle to ensure that no ruler, no State, no junta and no army anywhere can abuse human rights with impunity. Only then will the innocents of distant wars and conflicts know that they, too, may sleep under the cover of justice; that they, too, have rights, and that those who violate those rights will be punished."
On 1 July 2012 we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the day, after 60 States had ratified the Rome Statute, that the ICC started its activities marking a historic milestone towards ending impunity for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, crimes against humanity (which includes the crime of Apartheid), war crimes, and aggression.
Of the 121 countries that are States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 33 are African States, 18 are Asia-Pacific States, 18 are from Eastern Europe, 27 are from Latin American and Caribbean States, and 25 are from Western European and other States.
The African Region continues to be the biggest regional bloc in the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute. We remain committed to the Court also in the context of the transformation of international governance.
The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is working to finalise a Draft of South Africa’s National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance that will be released for public comment in the near future.
Let us all unite and make good the pledge made by President Mandela in his address to the Constitutional Assembly on the occasion of the adoption of our Constitution on 8 May 1996, and I quote:
“Our pledge is: Never and never again shall the laws of our land rend our people apart or legalise their oppression and repression. Together, we shall march, hand-in-hand, to a brighter future.”
Let us pledge also that we will work together to ensure that, in the words of Vasily Grossman, “the holy memory of those who were tortured become the formidable guardian of good; may the ashes of those consumed in the flames find their way into the hearts of the living and call forth the brotherhood of people and nations.”
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development
22 Apr 2012
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