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Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity

Human Rights Commission sets out to redress violence and polarisation in SA


27 September 2022

The South African Human Rights Commission on Tuesday launched an initiative called the Social Harmony National Effort at the Freedom Park Heritage Museum in Tshwane.

Dignity, harmony, healing and social inclusion have become the pillars on which people globally are rallying to rebuild… We have seen how — despite poverty, inequality and violence — many communities have been able to live the philosophy of Ubuntu,” said SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) CEO, Chantal Kissoon, at the launch of the Social Harmony National Effort (SHiNE).

The chair of the SAHRC, advocate Bongani Majola, spoke of the shock that swept through some KwaZulu-Natal communities in the July unrest last year. He said there were incidents that revealed “stark racial polarisation”.

“Affected communities, like the Phoenix community, demonstrated that South Africa remains divided,” he said, adding that the SAHRC had become aware of this when it conducted its imbizo intervention in the community, and realised the need to foster social unity.

Majola said the commission was “reminded that there have been few initiatives since the dawn of democracy that have been targeted at achieving healing in this country following the atrocities of apartheid, as well as pushing back the culture of violence”.

“SHiNE constitutes a reorientation of the commission’s approach to addressing inequality, prejudice and unfair discrimination…

“Equality complaints have stubbornly remained the highest category of complaints that are received by the commission each year, with racism constituting the bulk.”

Majola stressed that SHiNE aimed to encourage not only communities, but also individuals to be empathetic and compassionate and to seek harmony and solidarity with one another.

Deputy chairperson of the SAHRC, Fatima Chohan, quoted Somali poet Mohamed Ebrahim Warsame: “Each morning brings its own misfortunes, so don’t waste the day bewailing it. To be plain, it is your duty to solve them. Then plan for tomorrow. Life requires your clarity…”.

Chohan said individuals were agents of positive change, not only in their personal lives, but also the lives of those in their community.

“It is time that we treat each other as human beings… that we can dialogue through our differences. My political opponent is not my enemy; he or she is my fellow countryman.”

Chohan said that as deeply invested as people might be in their ideologies and belief systems, one needed to understand and acknowledge that the same applied to others who might differ with you, and that the commonality lay in everyone wanting “things to be better” in society.

“SHiNE tells us that seeking harmony in our homes, in our family, in ourselves, we can make this country the most special place on this planet and we are just the people to do it — to raise a generation who will shine that beacon to the rest of the world that is so fraught with stress and hatred simply because others who are different are coming into their country, but are still human beings connected at our origin,” said Chohan.

She said the initiative aimed to show that, with small steps, the change people wanted could be realised: “And the first step is, we greet! We greet strangers, the person who is a parking attendant, the cashier behind the till, the strangers in the lift or room… as we step in, we greet loudly and abundantly!”

Chohan said next year was when the heavy lifting of the SHiNE initiative would begin in earnest, explaining that there would be monthly themed dialogues asking South Africans to sit with their families and discuss how to reduce stress and stressors in the home, in the context of domestic violence gripping the country.

She said the country, as a result of its apartheid history, was marred by violence and that little had been done to address it.

“Let us self-reflect about our own relationship with violence; do we speak violence even if we don’t do it? On social media, do we repost things that we know will hurt someone else?”

Source: Daily Maverick

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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