News24

Honour Sharpeville, defend rights

2010-03-21 22:35

Johannesburg - South Africans should honour the victims of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre by protecting everyone's human rights, deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said on Sunday.

Motlanthe was speaking at the 50th commemoration of the Sharpeville Massacre during which about 300 demonstrators marching against pass laws were shot at by apartheid police in the township.

The shooting resulted in 69 of the demonstrators being killed while at least 180 other people were wounded during the march.

Motlanthe said South Africans had a responsibility to protect the Constitution and to honour those who gave their lives in the fight for freedom.

"In effect, this means as public representatives, at local, provincial and national levels, we should always remember the dead because we are their living delegates as they have relinquished their rights to participate in this freedom we enjoy," he said.

Socio-economic conditions

He said this alluded to the government's obligations and responsibilities to improve the socio-economic conditions of South Africans in honour of the departed who paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

"To adequately commemorate the victims and survivors of the Sharpeville massacre and other bloodbaths, we must ensure the progressive realisation of the socio-economic rights as envisaged in the Bill of Rights." Motlanthe said: "This means as government working with our social partners, we must strive to improve the quality of life of all our people by providing shelter, basic amenities, education, and security."

He also called on citizens to remain patient in the face of slow service delivery.

"The freedom we enjoy today in South Africa means we must exercise our responsibilities diligently so that even those who are aggrieved by (the) slow pace of service delivery will not resort to burning public facilities, such as libraries and schools," Motlanthe said.

"I believe freedom also obliges communities themselves to take ownership of protecting everyone's human rights and protecting the vulnerable members of our society," he said.

Opposition perspective

However, opposition parties and civil organisations said the ruling African National Congress (ANC) was the main threat to human rights in the country.

"Our constitutional rights are threatened by greed, cronyism, corruption and power abuse," said Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille.

"Our right to live free from fear is threatened by hate speech that incites violence and the government's hired thugs who think they are above the law," she said.

Zille said these threats were not from outside forces and they had nothing to do with the legacy of the past.

"They are recent threats to our human rights. And they come from the ruling party itself," she said.

Civil rights group, Afrikanerbond, said the government treated the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) with contempt by not complying to its regulations.

Its chief secretary, Jan Bosman, pointed out that South Africa's report on racism and discrimination was submitted five years late and its second report, which was due on January 9, has still not been submitted.

'Social explosion'

"In our celebration of Human Rights Day, we are extremely concerned about the South African government's own commitment to human rights," he said.

"It is becoming more and more a government that blindly approves or condones abuses against the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by not acting against any abuse or breach," Bosman said.

United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader, Bantu Holomisa, said a radical economic transformation was needed to avert a "social explosion" that South Africa managed to avert with the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) in the 1990's.

"The creation of our economic egalitarian society cannot be left to the vagaries of the market forces only that are inherent in current economic policy," he said.

"It is only then that we will be in a position to talk of the realisation of human rights in South Africa... when everyone reaps the fruits of the economy," Holomisa said.