21 March 2011
The Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Max Sisulu,
The Chief Justice of the Republic, Honourable Judge Sandile Ngcobo,
The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Jeff Radebe,
Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission Lawrence Mushwana
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga,
Western Cape Acting Premier Patricia de Lille,
Leaders of Political Parties and Civil Society,
Representatives of Organised Labour and Business Community
Members of our esteemed Traditional Leadership and Faith-based Organisations,
Human Rights Groups and Activists,
Fellow South Africans,
We are pleased to join the people of the Western Cape to mark this year’s national Human Rights Day.
This important national day affords us the opportunity to re-affirm who we are as a nation and what we stand for. Our Constitution states that the Republic of South Africa is one, sovereign, democratic state founded on a number of values.
It is based on the values of human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms. It is founded on the values of non-racialism and non-sexism, the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.
We believe in universal adult suffrage, a national common voters roll, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.
The Constitution also directs us to heal the divisions of the past and to establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. That is what we stand for as a nation. That is what unites us.
The Constitution of a democratic and free South Africa was adopted on 8 May 1996, by an overwhelming 87 percent of the members of the Constitutional Assembly. The road leading to the adoption of the Constitution ten years ago, can be traced back to 1923, when the African National Congress called for the adoption of a Bill of Rights in South Africa.
This was followed by a full and detailed Bill of Rights which was adopted by the leadership of the African National Congress in 1943 referred to as the African Claims.
The African Claims document demanded for the people of South Africa all the rights and freedoms referred to in the Atlantic Charter signed by United States President Theodore Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
It is quite ironic that when Dr AB Xuma sought a meeting with the then Prime Minister Jan Smuts, Smuts said he was not prepared to discuss proposals which were wildly impracticable. Today those seemingly impracticable proposals are, may we dare to say, part of our practicable Constitution.
Reading the Africans’ Claims today, one is struck by the clear relationship between this document and other ANC statements on human rights and self determination from the ANC’s founding documents, through to the Freedom Charter, to the Constitution of our democratic South Africa.
In June 1955, following a proposal by Professor Z K Mathews, the Freedom Charter was adopted by the Congress of the People in Kliptown.
This document became a beacon for millions of South Africans uniting them in a common struggle for human dignity, equality and social justice. The policies set out in the Charter included amongst others a demand for a non-racial, democratically elected government, and equal opportunities for all South Africans.
The Freedom Charter today, still remains an inspiring and visionary document that has shaped the development of democracy in South Africa and also forms the basis of our democratic Constitution.
Just a year ago, we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the adoption of the Freedom Charter. The freedom Charter and African Claims are amongst key human rights-based documents in the country’s history and national archives.
When President Nelson Mandela cast that historical first vote for a free and democratic South Africa on 27 April 1994, our country truly turned the corner. It ended the past of racial animosity, institutional oppression and a divisive society where our people’s worth was determined on the basis of the colour of their skin.
We sought to instill, even by our individual votes, that all people are born equal, must live as equals and must be treated equally by those especially tasked with the responsibility of governing them.
The advent of democracy in 1994 also marked an end to an era where the full might of the state was deployed against its own people, in order to subjugate a section of the South African population.
Most importantly, the struggle for freedom in South Africa achieved not only just the freedom of the oppressed. It also freed the oppressors and welcomed them back into the fold of all humanity, guaranteeing even their Human Rights in a free South Africa.
Through the attainment of liberation, South Africans collectively affirmed the belief in the inherent worth and goodness of every human being. As we remember and pay tribute to our people who perished in Sharpeville, Langa, Matola, Soweto, Boipatong, and other parts of the country we call on all South Africans to read, appreciate, understand and uphold the Constitution of the Republic, the supreme law of the land.
The founding President of a democratic and free South Africa, His Excellency Nelson Mandela characterised this Supreme Doctrine in the following terms:
“The Constitution of South Africa speaks of both the past and the future.
“On the one hand, it is a solemn pact in which we, as South Africans, declare to one another that we shall never permit a repetition of our racist, brutal and repressive past. But it is more than that.
“It is also a Charter for the transformation of our country into one which is truly shared by all its people – a country which in its fullest sense belongs to all of us, black and white, women and men.”
Today we urge all our people to celebrate our Constitution, and use it as an instrument of freedom, as a tool that enables us to enjoy the freedoms and human rights that so many heroes and heroines sacrificed for.
We must celebrate the Bill of Rights in this Constitution, which outlines all the freedoms and rights that we are entitled to equally as citizens, which nobody can take away from us.
We must also celebrate that we have built a strong Constitutional democracy with the necessary checks and balances. The Constitution establishes Chapter 9 institutions which support democracy and protect the rights of our citizens.
These are the Office of the Public Protector, the South African Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Auditor-General, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural Religious and Linguistic Communities and the Commission for Gender Equality.
Government has a constitutional duty to cooperate with these institutions in their duties of assisting members of the public to realize their constitutional rights. Our Constitution also makes provision for a Parliament, in which elected representatives of all our people work together to produce legislation that brings the Constitution to life.
Parliament also performs an important oversight role over government, working for you as citizens of the Republic. We have an independent judiciary, which is the final arbiter in all disputes in the land, and which brings to life our belief in equality before the law, and in the rule of law.
The executive, judiciary and legislature may differ on how to carry out certain tasks and responsibilities, but we are united in upholding the Constitution and in promoting the rights of all our people.
On this day we also urge all South Africans to work together, and to work with all spheres of government, to ensure the achievements of the socio-economic rights enshrined in the Constitution.
Improving the quality of life of citizens and freeing their potential is a moral, constitutional, and political imperative. South Africa has inherited a society which was based on a deliberate policy of white supremacy and favouritism. It is morally necessary to remedy this.
The words of former President Mandela are therefore appropriate:
“The new Constitution obliges us to strive to improve the quality of the people. In this sense our national consensus recognizes that there is nothing else that can justify the existence of government but to redress the centuries of unspeakable deprivations, by striving to eliminate poverty, illiteracy, homelessness and disease’’.
Therefore, we must work together to achieve a society where millions more have decent employment opportunities.
We must work to achieve a society where all children, urban and rural, go to decent schools with the right equipment and facilities as well as qualified, motivated teachers.
We want a South Africa where hospitals and clinics have adequate medicines, doctors, nurses and other professionals. We must work together towards a country where there is access to water, sanitation, electricity, good roads and recreational facilities.
It should be a country where the crime rate is at its lowest or is non-existent, and where there are thriving rural economies with infrastructure and basic services. We are building a society where those who qualify for social security from the state continue to obtain this service efficiently and speedily, to alleviate poverty and suffering.
To date close to 15 million citizens obtain social grants a right that is provided for in the Constitution, and these are mainly orphans and vulnerable children, older persons, military veterans and persons with disability. We envisage a society where government services are provided by public servants who work faster and in a caring and patient manner.
It must be a society where elected representatives such as Members of Parliament are accessible and able to provide assistance irrespective of the political party that members of the public in their constituencies vote for or support.
We also reaffirm that the rights of women and children are human rights, and that the rights of workers are human rights. That is why the South Africa we proudly inhabit today must collectively unite in condemnation, whenever and wherever a woman is raped or beaten, when a child is abused or neglected, and when a worker is mistreated and exploited.
We must strive for a society that continues to isolate from our midst those who seek to trample on these hard-earned rights. That is the duty of every South African.
In April 1994 we said that we were burying the past and began building a future where the universal Human Rights were accorded to all without regard to race, gender, background or religion.
Today we are proud to have made significant progress towards a united nation that adheres to the principles of equality and respect for all, regardless of race, colour or creed.
Let us continue to promote non-racialism and unity in diversity as taught by the struggle icons of our country. The country’s path to non-racialism was charted much earlier on in the political history of our country.
We recall the words of the esteemed Mr Sefako Mapogo Makgatho, the educationist, theologian and editor of the Good Shepherd journal, who is also one of the former Presidents of the African National Congress.
He outlined the mission of the ANC in 1919 as being amongst others to: “destroy racism and to create on its ruins, a non-racial South Africa with traditional democratic rights that would be available to all, irrespective of race, colour, religion, sex, possessions, formal education and so on’’.
Given the history of our country, we want to be one of the leading nations in the world in the championing and protection of human rights, and in working for peace and stability.
In this regard, developments in the North and West of our continent continue to be of serious concern to us.
As a member of the African Union, South Africa recommits itself to the position of the AU Peace and Security Council of 10 March, which reaffirmed Africa’s strong commitment to the respect of the unity and territorial integrity of Libya, and underscored Africa’s rejection of any foreign military intervention, whatever its form.
We believe that a peaceful and political solution, based on the will of the Libyan people, will guarantee long-term stability in Libya. In pursuit of this objective, the AU established an ad-hoc High‐Level Committee on Libya comprising five Heads of State and Government, including South Africa, to help find a solution to the Libyan crisis.
The committee remains seized with the matter.
We call for an immediate ceasefire in Libya and an end to attacks on civilians. The UN Security Council Resolution should be implemented in letter and spirit by all members of the UN Security Council.
Operations aimed at enforcing the ‘no fly zone’ and protecting civilians should be limited to just that. They should not harm or endanger the civilians that Resolution 1973 sought to protect.
As South Africa we say no to the killing of civilians, no to the regime change doctrine and no to the foreign occupation of Libya or any other sovereign state.
We are also worried about the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Côte d’Ivoire.
We have seen renewed hostility leading to the violation of the zone of confidence between armed groups. The senseless attacks on civilians and the rising numbers of refugees is a serious violation of the human rights of Ivorians. We urge all parties to respect the directives of the African Union on this matter and to put the interests of the Ivorian people first.
In the Middle East, we reiterate our call for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian question, in a manner that allows two nations living side by side in peaceful co-existence.
Fellow South Africans,
Let us pay tribute once again to the patriots who lost their lives in Sharpeville, Langa, Upington, Matola, Cradock, Soweto, Boipatong and many other parts of our country, in the pursuit of freedom.
In their memory, we have a duty to ensure that this country never again resorts to a system of government which institutionalizes and legalises the domination of one group by another, whether by race or ethnic group.
Our country has come a long way from the days when a racist regime decided where people should live, where they should work, which school or church to attend and even who to marry based on the colour of their skin.
We must not forget that only 17 years ago, the majority of South Africans did not even have a right to vote and elect a government of their choice.
We cannot take such victories for granted as a nation.
Our Constitution is a living document. It guides us in everything we do, ensuring that we do not deviate from a Human Rights ethos it seeks to inculcate in all of us.
It will guide us in ensuring that our country continues to uphold and respect the rights of its people, and that the people in turn, continue to respect the rights of one another and of all human beings in the world.
Let us work together to promote and protect human dignity for all
I wish you all a wonderful national Human Rights Day.
I thank you.