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MEDIA STATEMENT ISSUED BY THE SA HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION TO MARK THE 2011 FREEDOM DAY

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

As South Africa celebrates the 17th anniversary of its transition to democracy the Human Rights Commission commends the laudable progress that has been made to deepen democracy and freedom in the last 17 years.
Since the dawn of the new democratic dispensation the Commission has been actively involved in seeking to ensure that the vision of a South Africa that is built on the foundations of freedom, equality and dignity, becomes a reality for all.

The Commission has used the facilitative power of its constitutional mandate by providing a bridge between the past of a deeply divided society characterized by inequality, racism, untold suffering and injustice and a future founded on the recognition of human rights, democracy, peaceful existence and the creation of opportunities for all, regardless of colour, race, class, belief.

Because it is of the view that inequality and marginalization manifest through the lack of social cohesion and conflict, the Commission intervened in various individual and systemic human rights violations and came up with recommendations that sought to create social spaces where various sectors of society that were once divided, can connect. Through the findings and recommendations that were it made in reports such as: Report of the Public Hearing on the Right to Basic Education; Report of the Public Hearing on School-based Violence; Report of the SAHRC Investigation into Issues of Rule of Law, Justice and Impunity arising out of the 2008 Xenophobic Violence; and the 7th Socio-Economic Rights Report,  the Commission challenged government and other stakeholders to account for their role in the building of a better life for all.

The Commission notes with a deep sense of concern though that this year’s Freedom Day celebrations come at a very difficult and painful period in the country's ongoing journey of social transformation. Of particular concern to the Commission is the increase in the past couple of years in service delivery protests. As a result of some of these protests, the Tatane family in Ficksburg has lost a son - Andries Tatane, who died under very disturbing circumstances during a service delivery protest. The Commission is also concerned about the growing levels of intolerant and racist discourse that seems to have crept into our dialogue and conversations. This is evidenced in various Equality Court complaints. 

According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, there were about 6000 protests recorded in South Africa since 2002. Research has also found that many of the reasons for the protests pertain to among others: the housing backlog; poor socio-economic conditions; inadequate community engagement; lack of appropriate inter-governmental relations; corruption by municipal officials and the institutional lack of transparency.

The findings of the Commission’s 7th Socio-Economic Rights Report have also highlighted challenges within government that are preventing the progressive realization of rights.
These challenges are:
„X  The conceptual misunderstanding by the government of its constitutional obligation to progressively realize economic and social rights;
„X  The inadequate fulfillment of public participation processes and access to information, which are key elements of a rights-based approach;
„X  The social exclusion of the poor and vulnerable which includes women, persons with disabilities, persons living with HIV and AIDS, non-nationals, farm workers and indigenous populations;
„X  The disjuncture between strategic planning and implementation which resides in the weak capacity of government departments to deliver on their intended outputs.

As is common cause in a society where the levels of social injustice and inequality are high, competition over scarce resources often manifests itself through intolerance. As a result, a society becomes more polarized and this retards any meaningful attempts at social cohesion and national unity.

Even though the Constitution places a high regard on the freedom of expression, the Commission however cautions that this right has limitations and comes with responsibilities. Section 16 (2) of the Constitution defines hate speech as speech that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion and, that constitutes incitement to cause harm. As a society which comprises many diverse cultures South Africans need to be more tolerant and accepting.
As we celebrate this day the Commission urges all South Africans to work institutions such as itself to ensure that barriers to the speedy advancement of social justice and the attainment of a life of dignity are removed.

Ends
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08 March – International Women’s Day
21 March - Human Rights Day
27 April – Freedom day
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