Office of the Chief Whip
Speech by Hon V Smith in the National Assembly during the debate on Human Rights Day
13 March 2012
Human Rights are rights that belong to every person.
Likewise SOUTH AFRICA belongs to all who live in it, Black and White. Our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief. March 1960 saw 69 South Africans gunned down by the then inhumane and morally bankrupt regime in power in our country during a protest in Sharpville. Those South Africans gathered in Sharpville and many other South Africans throughout the length and breadth of this country were fighting for the right to be treated as equals in the land of their birth.
Speaker, we have a duty to remind ourselves and to teach our children about the period between 1652 until 1994 when the vast majority of White people in this land, with the exception of a small minority amongst them, claimed exclusive ownership of this country. An ownership they argued that entitled them to the land and wealth and participation in government to the exclusion of the majority of South Africans. The majority were expected to regard themselves as fortunate to be allowed to live and breathe and work in a "White manís country". This majority were expected to be content with being referred to as "garden boys" and "kitchen girls" even by those who were young enough to be their great grand children.
All this, only because the majority did not belong to the "MASTER RACE" and thus were regarded as sub human without any Human Rights. Informed by these and many other events pre our democratic dispensation, South Africans from all walks of life crafted and adopted the constitution in order for us never to return to those dark days. A constitution that enjoins all of us to build a society that is united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous.
In pursuant to these noble principles, South Africa today enjoys a system of vibrant multi-party democracy with a progressive Bill of Rights which recognises political, socio-economic and environmental rights and obligations. We have a system of separation of powers between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Beyond the formal processes of regular elections, various forms of legislated and other forums ensure popular citizen participation. The progress made in this regard, since 1994 honourable members, must be celebrated by all of us. Long may it live? However we hasten to acknowledge that regular elections and progressive policy on paper is not enough.
SPEAKER, whilst we encourage individual initiative and entrepreneurship those that command political and social power must not be allowed to abuse that power especially towards the poor and the vulnerable. In this regard South Africans must fight against all manifestations of racism, tribalism, religious and political intolerance, patriarchy and abuse of women and children. We must wage war against greed and the arrogant display of wealth and all of us must campaign against the abuse of alcohol and drugs within our communities.
We all have a duty to exercise maximum vigilance against forces which seek to subvert social transformation. There is absolutely no place in our society for grouping that organise themselves along the discredited apartheid racial lines with the aim of sowing hatred and division amongst our people. The demon of racism and tribalism must be confronted head on and defeated wherever and whenever it emerges. For Human Rights to thrive there cannot be any place in our society for oragnised crime, no place for corruption both in the public and private sector and no place for discrimination of one against another on any grounds whatsoever.
The Legislature as mandated by the Constitution, together with the chapter nine institutions have the primary responsibility of ensuring that weaknesses on the part of government across all spheres, that negatively affect governmentís responsibility to communities, including service provision and consultations, which often times generates upheavals must be highlighted. In light of this responsibility all Members of the Legislature and those that represent Chapter 9 institutions must be above reproach. We argue that the greatest threat that we face as a country today towards the attainment of sustainability with regard Human Rights is the prevalence of corruption, mismanagement of State resources and the lack or unacceptably slow implementation of government policy. These practises are not consistent with our Bill of Rights and the Constitution. And therefore anybody, regardless of status in society, found guilty of these practises must be isolated and exposed and must be held accountable. As the Legislative arm of the State, we dare not fail in our responsibility towards the nation.
As an ongoing project of Nation building, in 2009, the African National Congress committed itself to continue working together with all South Africans towards creating decent jobs and sustainable livelihoods, to education and training, to improved health care, to rural development and to fight against crime and corruption.
The organ of state that has the primary responsibility in ensuring this is the Executive. All realists will agree that the pace by which this ideal society where Human Rights for all will be built is reliant amongst other things on the availability of resources both financial and human at the disposal of government departments and agencies. Government is correct in pursuing a mixed economy, with the state playing a major and interventional role with Co-operative and other forms of social and private ownership and private capital making their own contribution towards sustainable economic development. The state, in our view, has a responsibility to encourage socially-beneficial conduct on the part of private business, whilst ensuring that these investors are able to make reasonable returns on their investments. The current state of the global financial environment requires of the South African economic and fiscal policies to remain resilient to external factors beyond our control.
The President during his recent State of the Nation Address outlined governmentís vision of addressing the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and equality. To succeed in this regard it is important for government to focus on creating an enabling environment towards sustainable economic growth. It is also the duty of organised labour and business to make it possible that as many South Africans, especially the youth have decent jobs and sustainable livelihoods.
Speaker, it is a violation of human rights when learners, in the main black and from a poor society, continue to be taught in unsuitable class rooms and on a hungry stomach. It is a violation of human rights when women and children are raped and killed and nobody seems to care.
Speaker it is a violation of human rights when women and young girls are sold into slavery for prostitution and drug trafficking by drug lords.It is a violation of human rights when women are assaulted and stripped naked at taxi ranks just because of their choice of dress code.
For as long as the South African child still has to walk for kilometre to school and have to cross over flooding rivers on their way there, and for as long as educators and parents lose focus of their responsibility towards the education of all learners and students this government, must without fear or favour exercise its responsibility in eradicating the failures on the side of officials and educators tasked with implementation of government policy.
The commitment of this governmentís efforts to improve health care is commendable. No patient must die due to the lack of medication and equipment in our healthcare facilities even when sufficient funds have been budgeted for and allocated to these facilities. We are encouraged by the introduction of the National Healthcare Insurance as well as the steps currently being taken to ensure that suitably qualified people are placed in charge of our hospitals and clinics. We must call upon the pharmaceutical industry not to place profits before the well being of our people.
Government has identified rural development as a priority area. Basic services like water, electricity, sanitation, roads and telephones remain a challenge. All these basic services are a pre-requisite to economic development in these areas and government needs to speed up the delivery of these services. Eighteen years into our democracy is a long time to wait for clean running water and electricity. Our women folk should not be still required to collect water from the river or fire wood from the fields to maintain their households. These are the most basic of human rights and our people need to enjoy them today.
Our Bill of Rights guarantees that "Everyone has the right to have any dispute that can be resolved by the application of the law decided in a fair public hearing before a court or, where appropriate, another independent and impartial tribunal or forum". In the interest of fairness, South Africans should not in this day and age have to defend themselves in a third or fourth language in our courts. Every accused person also has the right "to have their trial begin and concluded without unreasonable delay" This human right is regularly flouted to the extent that there are a number of instances where South Africans are remanded in custody upwards of three years. In a case in KZN the length of detention before the conclusion of the case was nine years. We think that it is important that our judicial system and the Judiciary attend to such matters. Being incarcerated in an overcrowded cell is inhumane. Being incarcerated for even one day longer than necessary is a violation of ones right to freedom.
Working together, the three arms of the State, Business, Organised Labour and every South African citizen must contribute in building a society based on the best in human civilisation in terms of political and human freedoms and socio-economic rights. This society must espouse the value that there are no superior or inferior South Africans. We must, as South Africans agree that there is no first class or second class citizens. We must guarantee that the colour of a personís skin is not what must define him or her but rather the content of their being. Until we succeed in establishing this society the dream of lasting peace and prosperity will remain an illusion.The struggle for Human Rights for all must be sustained and nothing less than victory must be the end goal for all South Africans, Black and White, rich and poor.
Honourable Members the journey towards attaining universal Human Rights for all will not be easy, but acquiring anything worthwhile has never been easy.