Action plan lends a hand to building a better SA

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The month of March is synonymous with human rights in South Africa and while gains have been made in building a society that is founded on equal human rights for all, challenges that still rear their heads are being addressed.

Since the dawn of democracy in 1994, South Africa continues to battle with racism.

Speaking on day one of a three-day National Conference on the Constitution recently, President Cyril Ramaphosa emphasised that government is compelled to address racial boundaries and inequalities that still exist within society.

“The contours of our racist and sexist past still feature in private and public institutions, in business, in access to skills, wealth and opportunity, and in the spatial configuration of our cities, towns and rural areas.”

The National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance is among the implements in government’s toolbox to build a more inclusive South Africa.

“The National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (NAP) provides the basis for the development of a comprehensive public policy against racial discrimination. It is complementary to the Constitution and other laws, policies and frameworks that aim to combat discrimination and protect the right to equality,” says the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ&CD).

Cabinet approved the plan and Indicative five year Implementation Plan in February 2019 and it was launched in March coinciding with Human Rights Month which is marked annually on the nation’s calendar.

Human Rights Month is commemorated to remind South Africans about the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for the attainment of democracy with Human Rights Day being commemorated on 21 March.

Government first made mention of the draft plan at the Human Rights celebrations in 2016.

This as Cabinet has reiterated that it remains committed to the constitutional responsibility of protecting the human rights of all people in the country.

A recent post-Cabinet briefing has stressed the importance of working together to ensure that no one is left behind in making the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of 1996 and the Bill of Rights a lived reality for all.

Over the years, government has encouraged South Africans to foster greater social cohesion, nation building and a shared national identity adding that it is the duty of the nation to strive for inclusive socio-economic development, while ensuring that the country combats racism, racial discrimination and all related intolerances.

The plan provides the basis for raising awareness of anti-racism, equality and anti-discrimination issues and developing collective responses.

The DOJ&CD has been the focal agency for coordinating the implementation of the NAP. The implementation of the plan is premised on the approach that it belongs to all and that its implementation requires a collaborative approach.

In the foreword of the 67-page document, President Ramaphosa notes that racism and racial discrimination continues to be felt in society alongside other forms of prejudice, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, hate crimes and hate speech.

Progress made

With this year marking the fourth anniversary of the launch of the NAP, several key indications, including an integrated government strategy on public education pertaining to anti-discrimination was finalised. Finalised in 2020/21, the strategy will contribute to an improved coordinated government-wide approach to public education and awareness raising on anti- discrimination issues.

In addition, the department continues to conduct various activities in collaboration with relevant stakeholders such as the Anti-Racism Network of South Africa (ARNSA) and other partners during Anti-Racism Week which takes place annually from 14 -21 March. The week culminates in Human Rights Day.

The ARNSA was set up by the Ahmed Kathrada and the Nelson Mandela foundations in 2015.  The network aims to ensure that local organisations are capacitated to deal with issues of racism within communities. It also aims to form part of national and international efforts to tackle the issue.

Anti-Racism Week is marked annually and calls on the public to denounce racism while also urging them to take positive steps to combat it.

The network campaign this year was launched in Sharpeville, Gauteng where the programme of the day involved a visit to the Phelindaba Cemetery where the 69 people killed in the Sharpeville Massacre are buried.

South Africa’s history of Human Rights Day is grounded in the horrific massacre that took place on 21 March 1960 wherein apartheid police opened fire on those who were protesting against pass laws. The day also honours 35 people who were killed on 21 March 1985 when apartheid police targeted community members after a funeral at Uitenhage/Langa.

The democratic government declared 21 March as Human Rights Day to commemorate and honour those who fought the liberation and the rights enjoyed today.

In addition, 21 March is also commemorated as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Proclaimed in 1966, the United Nations General Assembly called on the international community to redouble efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

Bringing it back home, among the other developments made through the plan is the department’s continued co-chairing role in the United Nations Protection Working Group (UNPWG) with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UNPWG provides a platform for exchange of information on issues pertaining to the protection of foreign nationals including refugees and asylum seekers and agree on actions that may be required in order to address problems faced by foreign nationals. The working group plays a vital role in escalating threats of attacks against foreign-nationals to the Justice Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS).

Other government departments including International Relations and Cooperation, Home Affairs and the South African Police Service (SAPS) are members of this working group.

Work that has also been done includes the establishment of the rapid response task team aimed at developing a Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) that will be linked to an early warning system.  The RRM will also collate incidents of racist and xenophobic offences (hate crimes) that are reported to the SAPS and other law enforcement agencies.

“The first meeting of the RRM task team took place on 10 March 2022. Work by the DOJ&CD in collaboration with various stakeholders towards operationalising the RRM is ongoing,” says the department.

Further progress made includes the establishment of the NAP governance model which Cabinet approved. This structure was inaugurated and established on 25 March 2022 to signify the political will in the fight against all forms of discrimination. Minister Ronald Lamola chairs this structure which comprises eight ministries, based on the cross-cutting issues covered by the NAP.

The establishment of two further operational structures, namely the Programme Implementation Committee (PIC) and Technical Task Teams (TTTs) are currently underway.

Charting a way forward

With Human Rights Month coming to an end, the department says the South African constitution prides itself as being one of the best constitutions in the world.

“Our Constitution has a Chapter 2 (Bill of Rights) that enshrines various rights guaranteed therein, and is dedicated to ensuring respect for and upholding of the human rights of all who live in South Africa.  This is evident and set out in the rights as outlined in the Bill of Rights,” it said.

The department notes that there are high levels of reported incidents of discrimination and intolerance, which people still experience on a daily basis.

“This can be linked to high levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment that the majority of our people, especially vulnerable groups such as the youth, women, refugees and asylum seekers experience on a daily basis.

“Notwithstanding the above, there are well-established national policies, legal instruments and mechanisms to address these scourges and human rights violations, such as the Chapter 9 institutions, Equality courts and various other fora that are mandated to investigate and provide redress, and to combat discrimination based on racism and all related forms of intolerance.”

It said that Rome wasn’t built in a day and the job of crafting a better South Africa requires the use of several tools and as many hands as