21 March 2011
By Chairperson Lourence Mushwana, Commissioner responsible for Migration & Equality
Ladies and Gentlemen, today is Human Rights Day, a day in which we take stock of the progress we are making in our efforts to promote, develop and protect human rights in our country since the dawn of democracy in 1994.
On this day we commemorate in particular the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which more than 60 unarmed black people were shot and killed by the apartheid police during a peaceful protest march organized by PAC against the oppressive and undignified pass laws that were enforced against the will of black people in this country.
It was a law that made them pariahs in their country of birth.
For many of us, the scars of this sad event still remain deeply embedded in our memories and similarly in many areas the evil consequences of apartheid continue to be clearly visible, 17 years into our democracy.
On this day we are called upon to remember where we have been and where we would never want to be again.
We are indeed reminded that though we have made significant gains in the promotion, development and protection of human rights since the advent of democracy, we still have to do more to ensure that human dignity, equality and freedom is permanently entrenched in the lives of our people.
The recent protests in North Africa and the service deliver protests in our own country are of grave concern to us as a Commission.
These protests clearly suggest that something somewhere is seriously wrong and must be corrected now rather than later.
One can confidently say that the situation in our country is nowhere near to what we are witnessing in North Africa, it is yet a reminder to us on this day to be on the alert on the existence of many pitfalls and trappings that may derail our hard earned democracy.
Service delivery protests which sometimes arises out genuine concerns are often marred by violence are indeed not minor or mean occurrence, this situation demands an urgent and undivided attention of our Government and all of us.
Our very own history has shown that lived experience of poverty, deprivation, marginalization and social exclusion often manifests itself outwardly into feelings of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia.
May 2008 bore witness to the most horrific scenes of attacks on foreign nationals.
South Africa is still a divided society because of its gross economic disparities.
Our Socio Economic Report that was tabled in the National Assembly in December 2010 highlighted key concerns that are delaying the progressive realization of the rights to land, education, housing, social security, water and the environment.
We have also recognized the important role and importance of children within our society.
We have accordingly decided to choose our theme for the commemoration of human rights this year as ‘Equity in the Realisation of Child Rights in South Africa’ side by side with the National Theme being Working Together To Protect Human Dignity for All.
Under this theme, we aim to reflect on, among others, why the majority of children are persistently marginalized in the provision of their basic human rights in areas such as health, basic education and social services.
We have started and we are continuing to celebrate and commemorate human rights under the said theme in all Provinces during March this year.
We therefore hope to recommend legislative and institutional measures that the South African government can adopt to address inequalities related to the provision of child rights.
As the local government elections draw nearer, it is important to highlight that the pursuit of human rights is invaluable in any society, but how it is pursued is fundamentally important to its achievement.
We call upon all political parties and their supporters to exercise great caution and restraint during their campaigns to avoid hurting others or situations that can culminate into violence and possible loss of life as it has already been reported in some areas of our country.
Our democracy came as a result of great sacrifices that included and not limited to the loss of many lives, hurt and injuries.
Our Constitution places a high regard on the freedom of expression, however it is important to note that freedom of expression does not mean that people have the right to say anything, at any time or at any place.
Hate speech is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion that constitutes incitement to cause harm and can therefore not be relied upon as being a form of freedom of expression.
As a society composed of many diverse cultures, we must be responsible in executing our right to freedom of expression so that we do not infringe on the rights of others through the guise of freedom of expression.
However, the Constitution can only do so much and it us up to us as a nation to free ourselves from the perpetual mental slavery of racial stereotyping.
We therefore express our deep concern about some comments which are often made by some leaders; senior officials and individuals that are insensitive to the diverse cultures and race in this country.
In closing, this year the Commission will be assuming the chairpersonship of the African Network of National Human Rights Institutions.
Through our chairpersonship, we hope to utilize our influence, to ensure that human dignity, equality and freedom flourishes in Africa.
I THANK YOU.