When will rights become reality?

2012-03-22 00:00

WHILE KwaZulu-Natal was spared the protests that marked Human Rights Day in Gauteng and the Western Cape, many citizens of the province continue to live the reality of the poverty that politicians regularly promise to eradicate.

Single parent Nomusa Ngcobo (35), who shares a one-room mud house with her five children in Jika Joe informal settlement, a walk away from the Liberty Midlands Mall, capitalised on the public holiday to ask working friends and relatives for food money.

“I don’t have any income except for the R250 social grant for my youngest child,” she said.

“I used to make a living through selling second-hand clothes. But in 2010 my left hand became semi-disabled after I was administered a drip at the hospital and it was left unattended for longer than it was supposed to be.

“I now depend upon donations from family, relatives and neighbours. Today, as it was a holiday, I got a chance to visit my family in order to ask for donations so that myself and my kids can have something to eat,” Ngcobo said.

One relief for Ngcobo is that three of her children get at least one meal a day at the no-fee schools they attend.

But she keeps losing the little she has.

“I have been broken into five times,” she said, showing how a piece of cardboard had replaced a broken window.

Ngcobo’s family shares a pit toilet with about 15 households in adjacent rooms.

Similar stories abound among the shacks whose occupants yearn for the right to decent housing, jobs, crime and sanitation to be translated into reality.

On the other side of the city, at the Botanical Gardens, music fans rocked to the rhythm of the popular band Goldfish.

SA Human Rights Commission deputy chairperson Pregs Govender said that in South Africa today poverty was the greatest human rights violation.

“Sixteen million people, mostly women in rural areas, have no access to sanitation,” she said.

Service delivery was at the root of many protests in the lead-up to Human Rights Day.

In Gauteng early yesterday morning about 150 residents of Kya Sands informal settlement protested about service delivery issues.

The day before at Ratanda, outside Heidelberg, protesters torched the houses of councillors, the community hall and a municipal office. Forty-eight people were arrested.

In Grabouw, Western Cape, tyres were set alight on the N2 highway during a protest earlier this week.

Residents burned down the Umyezo wama Apile School, demanding additional facilities and an end to overcrowding.

Protesters also burned down two ward councillors’ homes and a municipal building.

Then there was the controversy about Human Rights Day events being held in Kliptown, Soweto, instead of Sharpeville, where 69 people were killed when police opened fire during a protest against pass laws on March 21, 1960.

Seventy people were arrested in Sharpeville during protests on Tuesday.

“Protesters allegedly broke into a Usave shop and a Boxer Supermarket and looted the groceries inside,” police spokesperson Warrant Officer Aubrey Moopeloa said.

They will appear in the Vereeniging Magistrate’s Court soon.

Addressing the national celebration in Kliptown yesterday, President Jacob Zuma called on South Africans “to celebrate the right to life, equality before the law, human dignity, freedom and security of the person”.

He boasted that since 1994 the national housing programme had delivered 2,6 million houses, had provided shelter to 13,5 million, provided 87% of rural households with water and given 75% access to sanitation.

However, he conceded that while many people had gained access to these socio-economic rights, many more still lived in hardship “due to decades of neglect”.

He said the infrastructure spending programme that he announced in his recent state of the nation address was intended to tackle the legacy of decades of underdevelopment and to respond to the basic needs of all people.

In his message in Kliptown, Congress of the People president Mosiuoa Lekota said political parties had a duty to educate South Africans about the fact that human rights were not just about the Sharpeville and Langa massacres..

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said the fact that teachers’ rights to strike trumped the rights of pupils to learn amounted to “the real human rights scandal of our democracy”.

“And we can’t afford to let it continue any longer,” she said.

“The Constitution also guarantees the right of all South Africans to decent basic education.”

Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi encouraged people to look beyond their own rights and consider what they were doing to protect and respect the rights of others.

KwaZulu-Natal held its provincial Human Rights Day celebrations at eDumbe sports ground in Paulpietersburg yesterday. Premier Zweli Mkhize delivered a keynote address and speakers from various political parties also addressed the event.

In her speech delivered at the National Freedom Party celebrations in Loskop near Estcourt, NFP president Zanele KaMagwaza-Msibi encouraged people to use Chapter 9 institutions like the Public Protector and the South African Human Rights Commission.

“They were established to support democracy and protect the rights of citizens,” she said.

By the end of the day Nomusa Ngcobo at the Jika Joe settlement had a piece of meat in plastic container — the fruits of her cajoling friends and relatives for a day’s food for her family.

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