Growing Pains: Remember the human rights of Palestinians

2014-03-24 10:00

The past two weeks have been moving for me.

I’m referring to the release of the long-awaited Nkandla report, the one on everyone’s lips?...?well, almost everyone – ANC members by and large have remained mum.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe came out on Thursday morning and spoke for us. Quite maturely, if you ask me – the report wasn’t disregarded and uncle Gweezy in response to who should be brought to book responded: “Everyone, without exclusion.”

It is protocol organisationally that the official word is final for members. There’s this concept of “organisational discipline” in the ANC, where members don’t voice their opinions publicly once the organisation has – like the hush clauses any company would put into its employment contracts.

But privately I know many comrades and ANC supporters were worried – about the implication certainly, but also about what the ANC’s response would mean. Would it fight the Public Protector?

It was reassuring the ANC remained a custodian of the laws it fought so hard for, even when inconvenient. Reading the countless tweets about the ANC’s president and home, I realised that, paradoxically, the free flow of chatter by those who are anti- and pro-ANC is the greatest achievement of the movement.

The Bill of Rights ensures freedom of speech and a free press. To paraphrase Max du Preez: that a newspaper broke the story, which was later investigated by a chapter 9 institution, and to have the political party whose president is affected respect the outcomes thereof means we’re on the right track.

On Friday, we celebrated our 20th Human Rights Day, and I’ve never been more proud of our commitment to these, even as there is a constant push and pull to test their robustness.

I didn’t quite appreciate this before last Saturday. I drew the short straw and had to represent the ANC Youth League at an Israel Apartheid Week event. (Short straw because the event was at the same time as the Soweto derby. No one likes to miss a derby but I’m actually glad I did.)

I was introduced to a young man from Palestine named Qassam, the son of political prisoner Marwan Barghouti, who has been jailed for

17 years now. His jailing by the Israeli government – following his kidnapping by their military and an often contested court case – were for murder as he was one of the leaders of the first and second intifadas. Clearly it’s as political a case as Madiba’s Rivonia Trial was.

During the session, the plight of the Palestinians was outlined – about 80% of Palestinian adults had spent time in jail. I was reminded of how, when our struggle for equal rights was going on, our heroes were dubbed terrorists or communists by many Western governments.

And about how ultimately it was the people those governments represented and their commitment to human rights that contributed significantly to turning the tide – the people of the world united, regardless of their races and beliefs, and fought apartheid.

It is this commitment to human rights globally that we as free men and women now lack.

We have collectively pressured Israel to take the first steps towards a peaceful solution – stop building settlements in Palestinian territories and pull back to previously agreed border lines.

Similarly, we have watched while some of our fellow Africans invoke Africaness to poke their noses into the bedrooms of its citizens.

Remember when our government did that? When it threw people in jail for falling in love with someone they “weren’t supposed to”?

Well, maybe you won’t, but it was a hard-fought for right.

As we bask in the glow of our human rights, let us stand up for those around the world who do not yet enjoy them.

Let us become activists for them, as the world did for us. And yes, let’s continue to hold the custodians of our laws to account. It’s our right.

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