South African’s National Liberation Movement

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Human Rights Day

This is a Human Rights Day of profound significance for so many reasons. It is the first time in two years that we are able to gather to celebrate this day together. This is a reminder of how far we have come since the first case of COVID-19 was declared in our country, and we entered a nationwide lockdown to contain its spread.

And now we are here, able to gather in safety, and observing the public health regulations that have become part of our everyday lives. We are observing Human Rights Day here in the town of Koster in the Kgetlengrivier Local Municipality.

Just as the people of Sharpeville in Gauteng still bear the scars of a tragedy 62 years ago that was fueled by racial hatred, 14 years ago this community was shaken by a terrible crime. It was a crime made all the worse because it happened in democratic South Africa.

On the 14th of January 2008 a white gunman, Johan Nel, opened fire in the settlement of Skierlik, killing four people and wounding many more. The shooting of unarmed protestors in Sharpeville on the 21st of March 1960 was the actions of a brutal regime that drew its strength from repression. The hurt of what took place in Skierlik 14 years ago still cuts deep.

It was a stark reminder to us all that racism did not die with the fall of apartheid. It showed us that there was much work still to be done to build the bridges of tolerance and understanding in our nation. We are reminded of this even today when we hear of incidents of racism and intolerance in schools, in workplaces, in communities, in our universities, and in professional sectors.

These incidents sadden and anger us, and they should. These incidents have no place in our society, where we still struggle to heal the divisions of the past. We have not allowed these acts of racism and intolerance to define us, or to turn us against each other.

They may have brought back bitter memories of our past, but they have not dragged us back to that past. We draw our strength, our inspiration and our protection from our Constitution, which came into effect 25 years ago, after being signed into law in Sharpeville.

The Constitution affirms that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, and commits us to upholding the values of human dignity.

It affirms that our society is rooted in non-racialism and non-sexism. It holds that our country is founded on the rule of law and that all are equal before the law. It confirms the right of all adult South Africans to vote and to participate in the political life of their country, a right that was denied them in the past.

Our Constitution calls for the advancement and protection of human rights for all. It does not matter whether they are men or woman, adult or child, rich or poor, landed or landless, urban or rural dwellers, earners or unemployed, workers or employers, citizens or non-citizens.

The Constitution obliges the state to protect and uphold these rights, and to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are progressively met. The Constitution is founded on the achievement of equality. Today, a quarter of a century since the Constitution came into effect, we are confronted by a stark reality.

We are a free people, but we are still a long way from being a nation of equals. In recent weeks, a number of studies have told us that inequality in South Africa is deepening. This situation has been made worse by a global pandemic that has now entered its third year.

The pandemic has had a grave impact on the ability of people to lead the lives of dignity promised by our Constitution.

notes that South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world, and that race continues to be a key driver of inequality. If you are black in South Africa – and in particular, a black woman – you are more likely to be poor, to live in an impoverished location, to be unemployed, to have lower levels of education, and not have assets like land.

The legacy of colonialism and apartheid continues to reinforce inequality in many spheres, and undoing these effects has been a momentous task. Our struggle for freedom was fundamentally about improving the lives of our people.

Over the past 28 years, the country has made significant progress in tackling poverty and deprivation. We have built houses, hospitals and clinics.

We have implemented universal basic education and free higher education. The vast majority of our people have access to decent water, sanitation and electricity in their homes.

Society’s most vulnerable

are supported by an extensive

social welfare system.

Every month, over 46 percent

of the population receive a form

of social grant.

As we meet here, we are

seeing many of these gains

being eroded.

This is not only because of the

devastation of the COVID-19

pandemic and the impact of

global events far beyond our


It also because many of the

people tasked with fulfilling the

rights and aspirations of our

people have shown they are not

worthy of that responsibility.

Instead of serving the people,

they served themselves.

We have seen how corruption

and incompetence have

together had a devastating

impact on the delivery of

services, especially to society’s

most vulnerable.

Corruption and state capture

has eroded human rights, it has

weakened the institutions of the

state, and it has undermined

the rule of law.

It is one of the reasons that

people here in the Kgetlengrivier

Local Municipality – like many

others in North West and

around the country – experience

problems with getting decent

drinking water and proper


It is one of the reasons why

entrepreneurs and businesses

struggle to get permits or

basic services like water

and electricity to keep their

businesses running.

Because of corruption our

people are forced to pay for

services that are their right.

Government infrastructure is

vandalised or left to decay so

that private service providers

can be contracted to take over.

It is because of complacency

and arrogance that many

elderly citizens cannot receive

the medical care they need,

communities aren’t being

properly protected from

criminals, and children don’t

have the textbooks they need.

We cannot reduce poverty

and inequality as long as public

money is being plundered.

We cannot transform our

society when people are

confronted with arrogance or


Just as Sharpeville continues

to live in our minds and stand

as a symbol of courage, the

Constitution reminds us to

strive for a society that is not

only free and equal, but one in

which corruption has no place.

In the State of the Nation

Address, I called for a new

consensus to end poverty,

inequality and unemployment.

We have called it a consensus

because it must involve all of


It must bring together

government, business, workers,

civil society, community

formations and individual


In forging a new consensus we

are reclaiming the responsibility

of delivering the promise of the


On this Human Rights Day, we

remember that it was people’s

power that won our freedom.

And it is the power of the

people that must take us


There can be no dignity if our

children continue to go to bed


There can be no dignity if our

young people are unemployed.

There can be no dignity if

access to adequate housing,

healthcare, food, water and

social assistance is determined

by race and class.

My message to all South

Africans today is that the

Constitution is not a mere piece

of paper. It is a document that

empowers you.

As much as it places

responsibilities on the state, the

Constitution also confers duties

of citizenship.

We can only win the war

against poverty, inequality and

unemployment if we rid our

society of the ills that continue

to set back our progress.

These ills include crime,

substance abuse, genderbased

violence, damage to

essential infrastructure and

violence in our schools.

Reclaiming the Constitution

must be our common task.

We must obey the law, and

report those who break the law.

We must work with the South

African Police Service and other

law enforcement agencies.

We must join community

policing forums to help keep

our communities safe, and local

businesses should support their


We must pay for the public

services that we use beyond

the basic amount of services

that we receive for free.

Trust and confidence in our

municipalities can only be

restored if we work with them

as citizens and play our part

so they are restored to sound

financial health.

This cannot happen if we

refuse to pay for services.

We must take care of public

infrastructure and report acts

of vandalism that destroy

structures built for the benefit of

our communities.

As individuals, let us meet

our common responsibility to

help and care for the elderly,

persons living with disabilities,

and children.

To build the South Africa

we want, we must make our

voices heard on the laws and

policies that affect us through

public hearings and community


We must be active citizens

that support communitybased

organisations that are

performing invaluable work in

the places we live.

Another important duty of

citizenship is holding to account

those tasked with public office.

Last year we held local

government elections, and new

councilors have taken their

seats in municipalities across

our country.

We must demand from our

councilors that they make good

on their electoral promises.

They need to have regular

engagements with communities,

be available and attend to the

needs of the communities that

elected them.

We must support the work

of our councilors and join

community betterment activities

like clean-up campaigns,

anti-crime initiatives and the

improvement of our schools.

As parents, let us play an

active role in our children’s

education by joining school

governing bodies and parentteacher


Let us report all acts of


I want to take this occasion

to address employers in this

country, including in hospitality,

agriculture, transport and other

labour-intensive sectors.

Our country has one of the

highest rates of unemployment.

When employers knowingly

hire undocumented foreign

workers, they are breaking the


They are also contributing

towards social tensions

between our citizens and

foreign nationals who are living

here or have taken refuge here.

Our departments of Home

Affairs and Employment and

Labour continue to engage with

employers to ensure compliance

with the immigration and labour

laws of this country.

As a country founded on

tolerance, respect for diversity

and non-discrimination, we

must never allow ourselves to

turn against people who come

from beyond our borders.

Like those countries that gave

us shelter during the dark times

of apartheid, we must be a

welcoming country, particularly

of refugees fleeing persecution


Those who want to live and

work in our country must,

however, be documented, and

have the right to be or work


As we observe Human Rights

Day, we affirm that democracy

and human rights must be

enjoyed by all those who live in

our country.

Unemployment is one of

the greatest obstacles to the

achievement of the rights of all

South Africans.

As part of our efforts to grow

the economy and create jobs,

we are driving a number of

initiatives under the Economic

Reconstruction and Recovery


To address the social and

economic effects of COVID-19,

we have introduced the

COVID-19 social relief of

distress grant, the special UIF

wage support scheme, relief

funding to small businesses and

the Presidential Employment


To safeguard the health of

our people and support the

recovery of the economy we

have implemented the largest

mass vaccination campaign in

our democracy’s history.

Eliminating poverty and

inequality remains our focus as

we strive to recover from the

effects of the pandemic.

As government, we pledge

on this Human Rights Day

that we remain committed

to progressively fulfilling the

human rights of all.

Let us work together to ensure

that the Constitution makes a

difference in the daily lives of

all our people.

Let us build a nation founded

on human rights and dignity.

And let us leave no one