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CEO receives Top 200 Young South Africans Award

The South African Human Rights Commission Chief Executive Officer, Mr Kayum Ahmed, has received a Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans Award at a ceremony held in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

The award recognises young leaders aged 35 and under, who have made a significant contribution to society and who have the potential to shape the future of South Africa. 

“I feel deeply honoured and privileged to have been nominated,” said Kayum, adding that, “while this award recognises my individual ability, I believe that it also acknowledges the role of the Human Rights Commission to transform society, secure rights and restore dignity.”   

Since joining the Commission in August 2010, Kayum has worked closely with Commissioners and the Secretariat to initiate a process of rethinking the Commission.  According to Kayum, “Rethinking the Commission involves asking difficult questions, reviewing performance, critical self-reflection and ultimately, realigning our limited resources with a structure that ensures greater organisational effectiveness.” 

As a result of the rethinking process, the Commission’s performance has improved from 52% in 2009/10 to 63% in 2010/11.  Despite this significant improvement in performance, Kayum is determined to achieve 100% of the Commission’s strategic objectives in the next three years.

As part of the plan to achieve this goal, the Commission has embarked on a major restructuring exercise to align the structure with its new mission and vision.  According to Kayum, “Rethinking the Commission will inevitably raise uncomfortable, difficult questions.  However, the rethinking process can also result in the creation of new ideas, developing spaces for dialogue and debate, resulting in building a better, stronger and more effective Commission.”

Looking ahead, Kayum believes that one of the most significant challenges for the Commission is getting government to move away from its compliance driven approach to rights, to a substantive understanding of its human rights obligations.  In a report released jointly with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) relating to Equity in Child Rights, it notes that while South Africa has achieved near universal access to primary school education, the quality of education received by children is deteriorating.  So while government has on the one hand complied with its obligation to ensure access to education, the quality of education remains poor.

“Compliance with human rights obligations can therefore never be the only measure of ascertaining the fulfilment of a human right,” according to Kayum.  “We have to move beyond compliance to create a sustainable culture of human rights that allows us to, ‘heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights,’ as stated in our Constitution.” 

He added that, “As part of our mandate, we will continue to work with government but will also continue to ask difficult questions and agitate for change.  When toilets are built without enclosures, or access to education becomes nothing more than compliance driven, when a disabled learner cannot access the school library or university students violate the dignity of workers, the Commission will stand alongside the poorest and marginalised and continue to ensure that their rights are protected.”


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