Human Rights Start With You


President Nelson Mandela promulgated the Constitution of a newly democratic South Africa in 1996. The highest law of the land, it is widely regarded as the most progressive Constitution in the world, with a Bill of Rights second to none.

Among the rights stipulated are those of equality, freedom of expression and association, political and property rights, housing, healthcare, education, access to information, and access to courts.

However, developing and deepening the culture of constitutionalism is easier said than done, as South Africa struggles to transform itself and to become the inclusive, non-racial and diverse community the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of South Africa intended.

Eleanor Roosevelt said human rights begin “in small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.”

She went on to say in her 1948 address before the UN Commission on Human Rights that “they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

I often wonder about the Ubuntu philosophy and the ethos of inclusiveness – the obligation of all of us to gradually create political, social and economic conditions that will enable all people living in South Africa to experience the authentic enjoyment of human rights. Are we really applying ourselves to create the Mzanzi we all dream about or are we looking at the people around us to be our saviors? We pressure teachers, doctors, community leaders, nonprofit organisations, corporates, government and political leaders to uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We should be building on the Mzanzi dream, rather than dividing our diverse country even further. It seems as if negativity towards South Africa and fellow South Africans have taken over discourse from across our nation – around the dining room table, in coffee shops with friends, engagement with colleagues, when attending public events or even when relaxing on the beach.

So many South Africans still suffer social injustices, are excluded from the rights in our Constitution/Bill of Rights and the problems are multi-fold. One of the most shocking injustices is probably that an estimated half-a-million children with disabilities have been shut out of South Africa’s education system, according to a report by the Human Rights Watch in 2015. Other issues would be the 52% unemployment rate of South African youth, extreme poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, gang violence, high crime rates, failed state-owned enterprises, corruption, failed educational system and land grabs. With issues like these, it is easy to see why South Africa lies 105th on the recently issued World Happiness Report.

Even with these challenges, Mzanzi is still magical.

Start by reminding yourself of South Africa’s breathtaking natural beauty. We have some of the most diverse marine life, we house one of the 7 natural wonders of the world and have the finest national parks. Our cities are vibrant and our people diverse.

Recent political wins such as the resignation of President Jacob Zuma, together with the decision from the National Prosecuting Authority to prosecute him and the Constitutional Court ruling that he must pay back the money from Nkandla, shows that our democracy works and that it is still rooted in the constitution.

The way South Africans support their fellow man through various initiatives during the current severe drought shows that we have a great social conscience and an even greater sense of community.

South Africans have the best sense of pride, share a great sense of humour and are known as a most resilient country. We use these strengths to work our way through the most trying of circumstances and often use it to create solutions to our problems and it allows healing in a unique way.

We just need to remember this every single day, while applying ourselves to create the environment needed for our country to become the great nation we are destined to be. It’s about unity and working together. It was Henry Ford who said,

“Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”