01 April, 2012

Human Rights Day? You must be joking!

by Hussein Solomon

March 21st or Human Rights Days in South Africa was surreal. There was President Jacob Zuma reminding South Africans of how many homes the government connected to the electricity grid. Tellingly the figures of how many homes were disconnected on account of non-payment were ignored – leave alone those Johannesburg residents getting astronomical electricity bills from an inept municipality!

Not to be outdone by the President, Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale reminded his audience in Limpopo of human rights violations of American and British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. He, too, omitted how he failed his people resulting in five Limpopo departments coming under administration from the central government.

And whilst Zuma and Mathale talked, people across the country took to the streets in service delivery protests - torching schools, attacking councillors’ homes, putting up burning barricades, engaging in running battles with the police. Far from uniting the country, Human Rights Day demonstrated just how divided we are as a nation.

The partisanship of the ANC was also exposed on this auspicious day. In attempting to gain a monopoly over the anti-apartheid struggle and thereby control over its legacy, the memory of other anti-apartheid stalwarts like Robert Sobukwe and his Pan Africanist Congress had to be obliterated. This accounts for the cynical move by the ANC to move the main ceremony from Sharpeville (forever associated with the PAC) to Kliptown (forever associated with the ANC).

As we look beyond 2012 here is my wish list for human rights in this divided country:

• An end to violence against women and girls. Between April 2009 and March 2010 there were 63,500 reported cases of sexual offences, including rape, against women and children. The fact that it is estimated that only a third of cases are, in fact, reported is cause for concern.
• Police brutality and extrajudicial executions have to end. This is seen in the 860 deaths in police custody and the 920 complaints of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm received by the police oversight body, the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) between April 2009 and March 2010.
• Serious steps to be taken against xenophobia. The spiralling levels of violence against immigrants and refugees in the country are unacceptable and speaks ill of the kind of country and people we are.
• Serious efforts must be undertaken to curb corruption. Each year billions of rands are lost through corruption. Invariably, it is the poor who suffer the most. If we are serious of the slogan “A Better Life for All” we need to have real institutions having real teeth to ensure that those guilty of corruption, however high up they may be, pays the price.
• We need to end poverty. The surest way to end the scourge of poverty is to get people working. This entails opening up the job market through the deregulation of labour. For too long organized labour has held our economy hostage speaking for a privileged labour aristocracy – we need to be more concerned about the plight of the unemployed than those who already have jobs.
• Our media freedom must be protected at all costs. When Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika is arrested for his reporting on an alleged hit squad involving senior members of the Mpumalanga provincial government it bodes ill for the kind of free society we hope to be.
• The targeting of individuals for their sexuality must end. The barbarous practice of “corrective rape” against lesbians needs to end. Government has to ensure that is made a priority crime and that perpetrators are given lengthy sentences to ensure that it serves as a deterrent.

If we can embark on these seven steps, I too will begin celebrating Human Rights Day as a proud South African!

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