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Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity

Equality remains one of the most violated rights in SA - SAHRC

20 March 2017

The right to equality remains one of the rights most violated in South Africa. This is according to South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) Spokesperson, Gail Smith. March marks Human Rights Month in South Africa with the focus on human rights issues.

“Since 2012, the number one human right violation in South Africa has been around the right to equality. So, that remains the right we go to court on the most as the South African Human Rights Commission ... specifically those cases (which) would involve the use of the "K" word and other derogatory comments with racial undertones such as the use of terms baboon or monkey. So, it is the right to equality that is a top right, followed by labour disputes. We get a lot of labour disputes, most of those we send to the CCMA because they are another body that is setup to deal with specific labour rights and the third top right we deal with is around access to health care services, water, food and social security.”
The SAHRC is a Chapter Nine institution responsible for, among other things, promoting and educating people about human rights.

“We do a range of things as the South African Human Rights Commission. One of the things we do is we litigate. So, we appear in different courts in South Africa on behalf of people who complain to us about human rights abuses. The other thing we do, with respect to monitoring, is we have a research department that monitors socio-economic rights. So, those are the rights to water, sanitation, health care etc. and  then we have an advocacy unit that does advocacy around human rights work. So, we do a range of activities.”

As part of educating South Africans about their rights, Marcus says the SAHRC visits communities in rural areas. One of the concerning issues that the commission has realised is that people do not understand their right to dignity.

“The right to dignity is one of the top two rights in terms of our Bill of Rights and people do not even understand that as human beings in this country, we have a right to be treated with dignity, which is why it is an offence to human rights to be treated in a way that people were treated under apartheid. So, the recognition of dignity as a fundamental human right is very, very significant because it acknowledges our past and the fact that apartheid was not just a political system, or an economic system. But it was also a social system in which people's dignity was impugned with regularity and that was protected by the law. People could do that to certain sectors of the society and they were protected by the law.”

    “There also needs to be a recognition that inequality is what contributes to a lot of the racism that we see in the country today."

Racism remains one of the controversial issues SA deals with on a daily basis.

Smith says to fight racism South Africans need a change of heart.

“I think that we can make as many laws as we want to; we have got incredible legislation to support the Constitution and equality, but if we do not have a change of heart and mind, the laws do not really make much of an impact. The change has to come from within. One of the things that we have launched recently is something called 'the anti-racism pledge' and we would invite people to go to our website and to take the racism pledge. What we are seeing from the racism pledge, from all kinds of South Africans of all ages, races, who are taking the pledge and we ask them why do you think racism is bad. The responses that we are getting would indicate that most South Africans are fundamentally good people; most South Africans fundamentally want us to be a nation; want us to move beyond our racial past. It shows that there is hope for the future.”

According to Smith, in order to deal with racism SA has to acknowledge the damage that apartheid caused to South Africans.

“There also needs to be a recognition that inequality is what contributes to a lot of the racism that we see in the country today. We also have to address the structural racism left over from our past. We have to address poverty and the socio-economic issues that are causing poverty because without equality, it is very difficult for us to have dignity - a society in which all are free and equal."

As part of Human Rights Month celebrations the SAHRC is involved in activities including the Community Radio Awards on 29 March.

Source: SABC

The South African Human Rights Commission.

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About us

The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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