More work needed for full Human Rights enjoyment

Monday, March 18, 2024

President Cyril Ramaphosa has acknowledged that although government has made significant strides in advancing the constitutional and rights-based system, there remains a considerable amount of work ahead to ensure all citizens can fully exercise their basic human rights.

The country continues to be plagued by poor service delivery, especially in municipalities, said the President, adding that corruption deprives citizens of the fulfilment of their rights.

“Whilst we are rightfully proud of how far our constitutional, rights-based order has come, we know that much still has to be done to fulfil the promise of the full enjoyment of the basic human rights of all our people.

“The creation of employment for our people and promoting the rights that are enshrined in our Constitution are necessary to improve lives and lift millions out of poverty and despair. 

“We are duty-bound, not just as government but as all who have a stake in the future progress and prosperity of this great country, to work harder, sparing neither strength nor courage to fulfil the basic human rights of our people. The South Africa of today is a vastly different place to what it was thirty years ago,” the President said. 

He was addressing the National Conference on 30 years of Human Rights in South Africa at the Birchwood Conference Centre in Ekurhuleni on Monday.

The conference is being hosted by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development under the theme: “Three Decades of Respect for and Promotion of Human Rights”.

The three-day conference will see government officials and key stakeholders reflect on the work that has been done since South Africa’s democratic dispensation.

The President reflected that since 1994 government has prioritised the advancement and fulfilment of the Bill of Rights as a cornerstone of the country’s democratic order. 

He emphasised that human rights are the basic rights that all human beings should have. 

“Human rights embody the key values of our society such as equality, dignity and fairness, and define our nationhood. Human rights should manifest themselves through protection for vulnerable groups, freedom of speech and expression, religious freedom, freedom to love and other rights that promote the well-being of people.”

President Ramaphosa further acknowledged that there have been challenges and shortcomings over the past 30 years, and “we have a long way to go towards completely fulfilling the promise of the Constitution”.

That said, he added, the nation should not shy away from the immense progress that has been made.

The President outlined the pieces of legislation that have been passed that give effect to the Constitution. 

“The Bill of Rights enjoins the democratic state to enact various pieces of legislation to promote human rights between and among people. Amongst those we have put in place are the Promotion of Access to information Act, which gives effect to Section 32 of the Constitution; the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act which gives effect to section 33; and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, which gives effect to section 9. 

“To give effect to section 9 (2) of the Constitution, relating to measures of redress for the previously disadvantaged, we passed the Employment Equity Act, Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Act and others,” he said. 

He further highlighted that the constitutional order is premised not only on building a non-racial society, but also a non-sexist society. 

Over the past 30 years there have been significant changes in the position of women across society. Today, there are more women serving as leaders in both the public and private sectors.

“We have passed a broad range of laws to protect women from all forms of abuse and to advance their rights. These include laws around domestic violence, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and workplace discrimination,” he said.

Strengthening constitutional democracy

To promote accountability, responsiveness and openness, the President said government has established various institutions to strengthen constitutional democracy. These include the South African Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Public Protector, the Commission for Gender Equality and others. 

President Ramaphosa said he was proud of these institutions supporting democracy and their establishment ushered in a new era of accountability and respect for dignity. 

“Before the advent of democracy, our country was a pariah state that was infamous for violating the basic rights of the majority of its citizens. We lived in a country where racial discrimination was at the core of government policy. 

“Today our country is revered as a country that upholds, protects and advances the basic human rights of the people who live in South Africa. Following our country’s admission as a fully-fledged member of the community of nations, the democratic state has signed, ratified and acceded to various international human rights law treaties,” he said. –