Address by Minister Nathi Mthethwa on the occasion of the joint sitting debate on Human Rights

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19 Mar 2015

The Speaker of the National Assembly

The Chairperson of the NCOP

Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers

Ladies and Gentlemen

Comrades and Friends

This weekend we will be bidding farewell to one of South Africa’s finest son. A revolutionary intellectual, a Commander, an Administrator, an Organiser, a Minister, an Artist par excellence, the Animal, Inyamazane, the man I called Holobye, Minister OHM Collins Chabane. Thanks to all the parties represented in this House for a moving tribute, befitting the stature of the late unassuming, towering and gentle giant of our time.

No one knew better the struggle for equal human rights for all than this leader of our people. Human Rights 2015 is commemorated under the theme, “Celebrating the Freedom Charter, Enjoying Equal Human Rights for All.” This year’s commemoration will be in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the massacre. The basis of Human Rights Day is the Sharpeville Massacre that took place on the 21st of March 1960 where 69 unarmed people were killed by apartheid police.

This year we are celebrating the Freedom Charter as one of the building blocks of the constitution and the Bill of Rights as adopted in 1996. We are celebrating an unbroken legacy of Human Rights by the ANC. Other such landmark perspectives are the ANC’s 1923 Conference Resolution on the Bill of Rights, 1943 African Claims and the 1989 ANC’s Constitutional Guidelines for a democratic South Africa. The thread that runs through all of these perspectives is the Human Rights culture for all. These are the birthmarks of the Constitution of RSA as adopted in 1996. Because of this unbroken devotion of the ANC in the Human Rights culture South Africa is a better place to live in today.

Speaking on the same issues of human rights tradition within the movement the then President Nelson Mandela had this to say:

Since 1923, when the first-ever bill of rights in South Africa was adopted by the ANC, human rights and the attainment of justice have explicitly been at the centre of our concerns.”

(Nelson Mandela, Clark University, USA, 1993)

The main theme of the African Bill of Rights document is that amongst others; human rights should be universal, all South African had an inalienable right to ownership of land, there should be equality before the law and equal political rights, and finally all should be able to have, “an equal share,” in government.

The ANC led all in the country and the world to have equal Human Rights for all. In 1948 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Human Rights Charter, the ANC was more than two decades ahead of those who regarded themselves as a ‘civilised’ world.

To quote Diana Ayton-Shenker

“All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.” This means that political, civil, cultural, economic and social human rights are to be seen in their entirety. One cannot pick and choose which rights to promote and protect. They are all equal value and apply to everyone.

“As if to settle the matter once and for all, the Vienna Declaration states in its first paragraph that “the universal nature” of all human rights and fundamental freedoms is “beyond question” the unquestionable universality of human rights is presented in the context of the reaffirmation of the obligation of states to promote and protect human rights.

“The legal obligation has reaffirmed for all states to promote universal respect for, and observance and protection of, all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.

“Furthermore, the obligation is established for all States, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and other instruments of human rights and international law. No State is exempt from this obligation. All Member States of the United Nations have a legal obligation to promote and protect human rights, regardless of particular cultural perspectives. Universal human rights protection and promotion are asserted in the Vienna Declaration as the "first responsibility" of all Governments.

“Everyone is entitled to human rights without discrimination of any kind. The non-discrimination principle is a fundamental rule of international law. This means that human rights are for all human beings, regardless of "race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status". Non-discrimination protects individuals and groups against the denial and violation of their human rights. To deny human rights on the grounds of cultural distinction is discriminatory. Human rights are intended for everyone, in every culture.”

When some amongst us propagated for privileges and rights for a select few through qualified franchise, the ANC pressed for universal Human Rights. They could not listen even when the then President of the ANC ZR Mahabane warned that Africans are not political children, the friends of the natives insisted on being the trustees of the natives. Today they claim to be champions of the constitution whose birthmarks are self-evident and whose grain they stood opposed to, for decades. In any event the aim of the struggle was amongst others to liberate white racists from the false ideology of racial superiority and the insecurity attached to oppressing others. Today equal human rights culture is a lived experience in South Africa.

The African National Congress was formed in 1912 as an instrument for the liberation and restoration of human dignity of Africans. However, right from the beginning the ANC in the face of the gravest injustice never once abandoned its principle. The very act of the formation of the ANC against historical injustice by our erstwhile colonisers was a surge of equal human rights culture for all. We have been on this journey for the past 21 years and we keep on improving as we go. Again talking on this matter on another occasion, the late President Mandela stated:

 “We now live in a constitutional state based on the protection and promotion of basic human rights a state in which the protection of human dignity stands supreme, and in which the Constitution guards over such fundamental values as equality, non-racialism, non-sexism and the rights of all citizens.”

Nelson Mandela, Tunisia, 2004.

This is yet another testimony highlighting the fact that South Africa is indeed a better place to live in today.

At different epochs in the evolution of our struggle, for more than a century, the African National Congress has produced sign posts that reflected the aspirations of the vast majority of our people.

These landmarks have been like beacons of light providing guidance and leadership.

The ANC and its Alliance Partners have been in the forefront of fighting for and promoting a culture of human rights in this beautiful land. This reality will continue as we further levelling our socio-political landscape.

Yet, the structural legacy of colonialism and apartheid that denied people their human rights is still with us today. We have come a long way but much more still needs to be done.

The challenges of discriminatory practices in our society, such as racism, xenophobia, Afro-phobia, sexism, homophobia and related intolerances are still persistent. These are the blight on our path towards achieving a universal human rights culture. We call upon all peace loving people in our society to join us as we crisscross the country engaging in community conversations. We request all to support our social cohesion advocates as we deepen dialogue on the fundamental issues affecting our society today.  

These campaigns are aimed at denouncing such practices and at the same time educating our fellow compatriots about their own responsibilities. They are meant to cultivate within us, humanities best qualities. They are reminding us the noblest of principles for human kind.

The NDP enjoins all of us to be active citizens and we will do that effectively by participating in these nation building initiatives.

The Government continues to do all in its power to improve the quality of life of all the people. It is doing so cognisant of the fact that such actions will further bolster equal human rights for all our people. Through the efforts of:

·         Providing basic needs to communities

·         Providing social grants

·         Giving access to electricity

·         Access to water

·         Access to health needs

·         Giving access to community libraries

·        Opening of doors of learning and culture, through universal provision of education and bursary schemes for higher education

As we take this moment to remember these milestones in our history and plot the way-forward, we pledge once more in the words of Tata, Nelson Mandela at his inauguration in 1994, that:

“Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.

Through our national efforts for social cohesion, through our heritage and legacy projects, through our collective wisdom and through transforming the economy, the sun shall always shine upon us, and our achievements, as a people.

South Africa is indeed a better place to live in today.

I thank you.