Address by Adv Michael Masutha, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services at the occasion of the debate on Human Rights Day scheduled for 15 March 2018 in the National Assembly under the Theme: “The year of N R Mandela: Promoting and deepening a Human Rights culture across society”
Fellow South Africans,
The debate today provides an occasion to take stock of where the country is in our quest to deepen a human rights culture and advance especially socio-economic rights to reverse the devastating effects of poverty, inequality and economic deprivation which are the direct consequence of colonialism and apartheid which constitutes the primary focus of my contribution to this important debate.
Bapedi ba re tsie e fofa ka moswang. Ba a busa bare ngwana re lla tlala e sego phefo. Tsela eo mobu o ilego wa tseelwa setshaba sa gabo rena ka dikgoka moo diganka tsa go swana le bo Kgoshi Mampuru ba ilego ba bolawa ka ditsela tse shoro ka go kgokwa ka thapo a hlobotswe e le tsela ya mmuso wa hlaolele wa makoloniale wa go gobosha, go tlontlolla le go nyatsa esego fela baetapele le magosi arena empa le setshaba sa gaborena ka kakaretso, sebakwa e le one mobu le go gapeletsa batho baso go lefa motshelo mobung wa gabobona le go fetolwa makgoba ka go shomishwa ntle ga tefelo gona mo mobung o ba o tseetswego.
In 1998 President Nelson Mandela attested to the significance of socio-economic rights as an important pillar of human rights to redress the global challenge of poverty when he stated, and I quote:
"The very right to be human is denied every day to hundreds of millions of people as a result of poverty, the unavailability of basic necessities such as food, jobs, water and shelter, education, health care and a healthy environment. The failure to achieve the vision contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights finds dramatic expression in the contrast between wealth and poverty which characterises the divide between the countries of the North and the countries of the South and within individual countries in all hemispheres.”
Our icon Nelson Mandela led the historical process of rewriting the South African constitutional script that changed the course of history of a country which until today, is still reeling from the aftermaths of centuries of colonialism and apartheid.
In respondong to the question on land yesterday, His Excellency President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa had the following to say. I quote:
“Land is central to human existence. For millennia it has supported life, enabled the creation and development of societies and made economic activity possible.It is fundamental to the dignity and well-being of our people.
The dispossession of the land of the indigenous people of this country is therefore the original colonial sin that continues to constrain the realisation of the potential of our people.
The return of the land to those who work it is fundamental to the transformation of our society and it is critical if we are to improve the lives of the poor.
In this, the Year of Nelson Mandela, we need to work together to ensure his vision for land reform is realised.
This Parliament and Government should therefore be committed to the implementation of a comprehensive land reform programme that corrects the historical injustice of land dispossession, provides land to the poor in both rural and urban areas, strengthens the property rights of all, increases agricultural production and improves food security.”
The land dispossession culminated in the Union of South Africa Act of 1909, which created a State constituted by the combined Boer-British white population to the exclusion of the indigenous African people. The Union was followed immediately by the Natives Land Act of 1913 which stripped Africans of their land and forced them into servitude and slavery. They became labourers in the land of their birth and tilled the soil and dug the minerals from the belly of their dispossessed land to enrich their colonial masters and their mother countries. In this way they planted the seed of poverty and deprivation that defined the destiny of the majority of the indigenous people of this country which the Constitution and the Bill of Rights seek to undo. It was in the Africans’ Claims that the ANC unequivocally demanded the redistribution of land to redress the dispossession of land which was masterminded through the Natives Land Act of 1913, through which a mere under 13% of the land was allocated to Africans against the 87% given to the white minority. The resolution of the 54th National Conference of the ANC on the expropriation of land without compensation is the reinstatement of the policy stance on this matter. The expropriation will be undertaken within the confines of the constitution and the law and we will also defer to legal jurisprudence on the matter where we need to. The project we undertook two years ago, on the Assessment of the Impact of socio-economic rights jurisprudence on the lived experiences of South Africans attested to the significance of jurisprudence in reversing the deeply rooted socio-economic inequality.
After the Nationalist Government ascended to power in 1948 it pursued the trajectory of the colonial racial oppression and promoted the ideology of Afrikaner ethnic and white racial dominance which put these groups' rights and privileges above those of the Africans, Indians and Coloureds. It is abundantly clear that the Democratic Alliance is founded on the same ideology as the Nationalist Party as attested by the defence of colonialism and colonial legacy by its embattled Western Cape Premier Helen Zille who also referred to fellow black South Africans from the Eastern Cape as economic refugees and its confused stance on the question of expropriation of land without compensation as articulated in this house yesterday by its leader, Mmusi Maimane, betraying the DA’s reactionary and regressive policies.
The National Party, enacted, among others, The Group Areas Act of 1950 which preserved affluent and usable areas for whites. It was in terms of this law that Johannesburg, including the Chancellor House where Mandela and Tambo practiced as lawyers, like many other urban centres, was declared a “Whites Only” area.
All the colonial and apartheid constitutions and laws adopted by the Nationalist Government safeguarded and protected white minority interest and blatantly disregarded human rights, in order to advance the State’s power of suppressing liberation movements, of banning political activity by the disenfranchised, of enforcing draconian laws of detention without trial, of subverting the independence of the Judiciary and the courts; and of implementing economic policies that protected the interest of whites exclusively. It was through this protection that whites were the beneficiaries of the social security scheme that was geared to alleviate the plight of poor whites whose situation was the direct or indirect consequence of the Anglo-Boer war (properly construed as the South African war as it involved the sacrifices of all South Africans across the racial divide), and other wars in which all South African participated. Not only were Africans excluded from the economic mainstream, but also from its social security, thus leading to a cycle of poverty, and which our Bill of Rights seeks to undo through the recognition of and progressive realisation of socio-economic rights.
Human Rights have defined the struggle for freedom and justice led by the African National Congress in its formation over 106 years ago. The ANC’s Bill of Rights of 1923, the Africans’ Claims adopted at its 1943 Annual Conference and the Freedom Charter of 1955 became seminal points of reference during the multi-party negotiations which yielded our democratic Constitution and its Bill of Rights which entrenches enforceable socio-economic rights.
During the debate today and other events lined-up to commemorate Human Rights Day and well as the Nelson Mandela centenary, fellow compatriots will hear of the many programmes implemented to ensure the progressive realisation of the rights in the Bill of Rights including measures geared to advance radical socio economic transformation as aptly articulated by the National Development Plan.
Amongst the notable milestones of the ANC led Government are the following:
- We have repealed several apartheid laws and built democratic institutions including Institutions Supporting Constitutional Democracy such as the South African Human Rights Commission which has a mandate to monitor the progressive realisation of socio-economic rights,
- The South African Government acceded to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on 12 January 2015. Accession to the Covenant enhanced opportunities for citizens to shape dialogue and actions around the realisation of socio-economic and cultural rights in South Africa.
- Over the past 22 years, 2,8 million completed houses and over 1 million serviced sites, were delivered, allowing approximately 20 million people access to accommodation and a fixed asset, extended social security to over 70million South Africans including children who also benefit from free basic education and school nutrition.
- Government has committed itself to providing free higher education and training by making available an additional R57bn to fund the phasing in of free tertiary education for students from households earning less than R350, 000 a year,
- South Africa has the largest ARV therapy programme in the world, today. At the end of March 2016, there were 3 407 336 clients remaining on antiretroviral therapy (ART).
As you join in this important debate, let us be inspired by the profound words of President Mandela when he addressed the joint sitting of the Parliament during the occasion to celebrate the ten years of our constitutional democracy when he stated, and I quote:
“Let us never be unmindful of the terrible past from which we come - that memory not as a means to keep us shackled to the past in a negative manner, but rather as a joyous reminder of how far we have come and how much we have achieved. The memory of a history of division and hate, injustice and suffering, inhumanity of person against person should inspire us to celebrate our own demonstration of the capacity of human beings to progress, to go forward, to improve, to do better.” (Close quote).
I thank you.