Mandela, Gandhi faced similar struggles – Motlanthe

2014-12-15 09:45

South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and India’s Mahatma Gandhi faced trying times and lived in a world in which injustice, human rights violations and suffering were part and parcel of many people’s daily lives. Both have showed us that we can overcome and that we can change the world, making it a better place. Both have shown us that it is possible.

So, what about the world we live in today? What are the biggest global challenges that we face and is it possible to change our world for the better?

Despite progress being made, the number of people living in extreme poverty still remains unacceptably high.

Like many other countries, both our countries face poverty. The overwhelming majority of people living on less than $1 a day belong to southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with one-third of the world’s 1.2 billion extreme poor living in India in 2010.

In some developing countries we find the gap between the rich and the poor widening. This means that access to education, healthcare, housing, electricity, sanitation and other basic services remains elusive for many people who live in developing economies. Other challenges, such as food insecurity and climate change threaten to undermine the progress made in recent years.

Many global Millennium Development Goals have been met and many more are within read for next year’s target, according to the 2014 report.

Efforts in the fight against malaria and tuberculosis have shown results. An estimated 3.3 million deaths from malaria were prevented between 2000 and 2012 due to the substantial expansion of malaria intervention.

The intensive efforts to fight tuberculosis have saved an estimated 22 million lives worldwide since 1995. Access to improved drinking water became a reality for 2.3 billion people and the target of halving the proportion of people without access to an improved drinking water source was achieved in 2010, five years ahead of schedule.

Yet some goals, such as reducing child and maternal mortality and increasing access to sanitation, are unlikely to be reached by 2015 – despite major progress. Hunger also continues to decline, but immediate additional efforts are needed to reach the goals.

Discussing the attainment of these targets, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon has appealed that no one must be left behind.

How do we ensure that no one is left behind? How do we find global solutions to global problems?

We do it through what is known as global governance – the collective effort by a variety of role-players, such as sovereign states, international organisations, and other non-state stakeholders to address common challenges and seize opportunities that transcend national frontiers.

In domestic politics, governance is straightforward. It is provided by actual governments; however governance in the international or transnational sphere is more complex and ambiguous.

States are still the dominant actors, but non-state role-players increasingly help shape the global agenda and monitor compliance with international obligations. Civil society also plays a vital role as they participate as advocates, activists and also as policymakers. They play increasingly active roles in shaping norms, laws, and policies at all levels of governance.

There are also challenges to global governance, one being the difficulty in ensuring compliance. Who enforces decisions or best practice initiatives in instances where countries do not comply?

In the area of peace and security there are no standing UN military forces and member states contribute to making troops available. In the area of human rights there is often no consistent enforcement capability.

Ad hoc tribunals and the International Criminal Court are institutional steps that have led to indictments and convictions and the Security Council has, in certain instances, imposed collective sanctions, international judicial pursuit, and military force.

But these measures are implemented on a case-by-case basis. The fact that there are still many countries in the world in which human rights violations take place daily, is proof of the fact that there is no real, “one-size-fits-all” enforceable way to ensure compliance with human rights instruments.

That is why global governance, global co-operation, diplomacy, peer review and activism on the part of nations and bodies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to name but two, become all the more important.

So what can we do?

Perhaps as a starting point, we must acknowledge a global “butterfly effect” – a metaphor which states with variance that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas. In other words, there is a sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state can result in large differences in a later state.

We must realise that climate change or environmental degradation in one country or region may very well lead to food insecurity, hunger and poverty in another. In a globalised world there is no such thing as isolation; every aspect of governance is interdependent and interconnected.

South Africa has a firm commitment towards the protection and promotion of human rights and play an active role the world over. We are party to various international human rights instruments – in the form of many binding declarations, proclamations, statements, programmes of action, treaties, covenants, protocols and conventions – which commit the state to uphold certain legal obligations.

Our country is steadily making progress in the key priorities it has set for itself. Among others, the government has made efforts to create work opportunities for our people. We have built houses, rolled out electricity and clean, running water and increased access to healthcare. We have built schools and clinics and assisted people with social grants. We are aware, however, that much still needs to be done before we can say all our people live a better life.

When we fought for a free and democratic South Africa, we also fought to bring about a just and fair society, where all are equal before the law and all have access to justice. After 1994, special interventions were introduced to address gender-based violence and prevent violence to women and children.

I am aware of the importance of the human rights of children and I am pleased to say that we now have more children going to school, with the number of pupils increasing year on year.

Our country’s Children’s Act makes provision for identification, reporting and statutory intervention for a child in need of care and protection including children who have been abandoned, orphaned, exploited, neglected, abused or maltreated. The available legal interventions for children include, among others, the removal and placement of the child in temporary safe care, and alternative care such as an appropriate child and youth care centre or foster care.

There are provisions that seek to protect the child under the age of 18 in all interactions in the criminal justice system when such children are in conflict with the law. The intervention entrenches the notion of restorative justice in the criminal justice system.

Fighting against poverty

Our biggest challenge, I believe, lies in fighting poverty and inequality. Poverty is the single greatest threat to the well-being of children and families. It can affect every area of a child’s development – social, educational and personal.

Poverty in South Africa, and indeed elsewhere in the world, is most evident in the lack of opportunities for economically active citizens to earn a wage. The linkages between income poverty and deprivations in healthcare, education and social infrastructure are direct, with devastating consequences for individuals and society.

Deprivations in health and education are also linked to a lack of access to other assets such as housing, land, social infrastructure (such as clinics, schools, libraries and cultural resources) and services such as credit facilities. Without access to quality health and education and income-earning opportunities, the lives of the vast majority of the poor wage a daily struggle to simply survive.

Nelson Mandela once remarked that: “Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.”

The National Development Plan aims, among others, to eliminate poverty and create 11 million jobs by the year 2030. We know that this can be achieved by drawing on the energies of our people, growing an inclusive economy, building capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the state, and promoting leadership and partnerships throughout society.

Africa is a youthful continent, with approximately 60% of total population below 35, therefore it is imperative to create opportunities for our young people and raise levels of education.

We realise that long-term shifts in global trade and investment are reshaping the world economy and international politics. Chief among these developments is the emergence of the rapidly growing economies of the Brics countries – China, India and Brazil in particular – as well as the increased growth in Africa. Globalisation presents additional risk for emerging markets, but it can also bring with it profound opportunities for growth and prosperity.

The challenges we face in the world call for decisive leadership.

» This is an edited speech delivered by former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe at the 15th International Conference of Chief Justices of the World in Lucknow, India

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