Constitution vs land grabs: SA’s varying definitions of human rights

A quilt forms part of an exhibition at Msunduzi Museum to celebrate human rights.
A quilt forms part of an exhibition at Msunduzi Museum to celebrate human rights.

Attempts to water down the Constitution are dangerous and could place South Africa in the league of other Human Rights denialists, warned civil rights group Section27.

In contrast to this group’s Human Rights Day message was that of the Economic Freedom Fighters’, who renewed its call for land restitution without remuneration. To do this, the Constitution would have to be changed.

“Increasingly, our people will ask what good is the right to vote without land? What good is freedom of movement, assembly and expression without the land? Above all, they will ask what good is the right to life without the land because without the land we are condemned to live on our knees, without the dignity of identity and economic freedom,” said EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.

The most criticism from civil society and opposition ranks was levelled at the ANC.

Pressure group Equal Education said it couldn’t celebrate Human Rights Day with President Jacob Zuma in the Eastern Cape because schools were places of human rights abuses.

Roofs and walls have fallen down and killed children, there are revolting toilets, unelectrified classrooms and the absence of water in schools, all of which violate students’ basic human rights and dignity, said the group, who held a silent protest in King William's Town ahead of Zuma’s address in the town.

“Education is a fundamental human right, and one that cannot be attained when the State fails to meet its legally binding mandate to provide schools with basic infrastructure in terms of the regulations relating to the minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure, or ‘norms and standards’.”

Section27 said that Human Rights Day 2017 was “a burning reminder that for many, many of our compatriots, human rights is simply a definition on a website, it is a not a lived reality, it is not a fruit of freedom they have come to enjoy.”

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said the party would never stop defending human rights.

“Oppression has no place in the world we live in.

“We will continue to build bridges to unite South Africans, bringing them together when everyone else is seeking to divide them.”

He said Madiba dreamt of a country united around a common South African identity.

“We are now the only party that still believes in and works for this vision. The ANC has long abandoned it, they too seek to divide us. They may have abandoned it, but we never will. It is the only sure way to shared prosperity for our country.”

Freedom Front Plus leader, Dr Pieter Groenewald, had a similar message.

He said that Zuma and the ANC had made Human Rights Day an empty shell that couldn’t be celebrated in any way.

“The ANC’s greatest achievement since 1994 surely must be that they managed to alienate almost all minorities in the country,” he said.

Regarding Zuma’s recent remarks on land, which echoed those of the EFF, Groenewald said “Zuma and the ANC no longer know how to solve poverty and unemployment, and are in an irresponsible and emotionally charged way, blaming this on whites” .

It is a dangerous recipe that creates racist conflict and contempt for the human rights of white people in the country, he said.

The ANC asked South Africans to use the day to connect to the values of “our new nation” – a non-racial, non-sexist society where everyone enjoys equal rights.

“We must also reject those among us who continue to praise colonialism and the systematic oppression of our people, undermining the sacrifices of the oppressed majority of blacks in general and Africans in particular,” said ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa.

Jan Gerber
Parliamentary journalist
City Press
p:+27 11 713 9001  e:
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