Bitou Municipality Human Rights Day Celebrations
Speech by Donald Grant, Minister of Transport and Public Works
- Programme director(s)
- Honourable Mayor of the Bitou Municipality, Cllr Memory Booysen
- Councillors and representatives of the Bitou Municipality
- Local artists and performers
- Invited guests
- Ladies and gentlemen
Good afternoon, goeie dag, molweni.
My sincere gratitude for having been invited to celebrate this critical day in the South African calendar: Human Rights Day. The importance of this day in South Africa’s history can never be overstated; each year this day affords us all the opportunity to look back on our past in honest reflection, take serious stock of the present, and look forward to the work that awaits us before we can confidently say that we have achieved a freedom in the country that fully recognises the rights of others. In many ways we have made phenomenal strides in this regard, and in others we remain seriously wanting.
In 2016, can we confidently and honestly assert that we have achieved a non-sexist, non-racial and prosperous society?
Our yardstick for measuring how far we have come is clearly articulated in the preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, adopted in 1996, which reads:
“We, the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past; Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this 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 free the 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.”
The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, amongst the most progressive in the world, has afforded all citizens a comprehensive set of rights, coupled by reciprocal responsibilities.
Our collective past was characterised by the systematic deprivation of basic human rights for many of South Africa’s people. As a result, periods like the 1960s were marred by sustained defiance and protest against apartheid and racism that spread across the whole country, punctuated by various notable events. Few events were more memorable than that of 21 March 1960 which went down in history as the date of the historic and tragic Sharpeville massacre. The apartheid police shot and killed 69 of the protesters at Sharpeville, many of them shot while fleeing. Many other people were killed in other parts of the country. The tragedy came to be known as the Sharpeville Massacre as it was a chilling illustration of the apartheid government’s deliberate violation of human rights to the world.
The democratic government elected in 1994 later declared March 21 Human Rights Day to commemorate and honour our hard fought for freedom. We commemorate Human Rights Day to reinforce our collective commitment to the Bill of Rights as enshrined in our Constitution.
These rights include:
- Equality – everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.
- Human dignity – everyone has inherent dignity and have their dignity respected and protected.
- Freedom of movement and residence – everyone has a right to freedom of movement and to reside anywhere in the country.
- Language and culture – everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice.
- Life - everyone has the right to life.
In 2016, we undoubtedly live in a South Africa whose citizens have worked hard to realise these commitments, and have work together to overcome our differences and embrace our commonalities. Although much has been done, much more must still be done.
In 2016 we unfortunately cannot claim to be a non-sexist society, when women in our country still earn on average 15% less than men for doing the same jobs. We cannot be satisfied with the progress and pace of achieving gender equality when black women in rural areas between 15 and 24 are the faces of poverty. There are many more statistics that speak directly to how skewed life still is for many of South Africa’s citizens.
A recently released assessment of our achievements in the sphere of human rights during 2015 indicates that of the 27 rights assessed, 8 are indicated as poor or very poor and another 7 are indicated as average. If this is even reasonably accurate, we have much still to do.
We must do all we can to espouse the principles of Freedom, Fairness, and Opportunity. We must continue to work together to ensure that our hard-earned freedoms are enjoyed by all, and not just the few.
We must ensure that the rule of law is applied fairly to all who call South Africa home.
We must too work hard to expand opportunities to all citizens, empowering them to build the lives that they truly value.
Whether we are at the work place, within communities, at schools, or with our partners and children, we all need to demonstrate the kind of responsibility that we would like to see in our country’s future.
Today, as we celebrate this historic day, we must too reaffirm our commitment to take responsibility for our freedom; a commitment to making sure that our human rights record and history are preserved and strengthened for future generations. The work that lies ahead of us all may be daunting at times, but the reward of a free and fair society where opportunities exist for all, will be well worth it.
I thank you.