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Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Human Rights Day, De Aar West Sports Ground, Northern Cape

Programme Directors:

Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Mr Zizi Kodwa, and,

MEC for Arts, Culture, Sport and
Recreation, Ms Desery Fienies,

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Mr Ronald Lamola,

Ministers and Deputy Ministers,

Premier of the Northern Cape, Dr Zamani Saul,

Premier of the Free State, Mr Mxolisi Dukwana,

Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission, Prof Bongani Majola,

Executive Mayor of Pixley Ka Seme District Municipality, Cllr Rhoode Itumeleng,

Mayor of Emthanjeni Local Municipality, Cllr Lulamile Nkumbi,

Community leaders,

Fellow South Africans,

Today is a day on which we celebrate the great progress we have made as a nation in building a democracy that is founded on equal human rights for all people.

It is a day on which we remember and pay tribute to the many people who fought for these rights and for the great sacrifices that they made.

It is also a day on which we look to the future. We reaffirm our pledge not only to safeguard and uphold these rights at all times, but to strive to ensure that all people may exercise these rights to their fullest.

This is a significant year for the celebration of Human Rights Day.

This year is the one hundredth anniversary of the adoption of the first bill of rights in South Africa’s history.

This was an act of remarkable vision at a time when the majority of South Africans were by law denied the most basic of human rights.

The adoption of the bill of rights, which had no legal standing at the time, took place just a decade after the Native Land Act had resulted in the mass dispossession of Africans of their land.

It took place 13 years after the Union of South Africa confirmed that black South Africans would have no say in the running of their country.

Today, as we mark Human Rights Day, we pay tribute to those men and women who had the foresight to proclaim that all people in this country have inalienable human rights.

The theme for Human Rights Day this year is: ‘Consolidating and Sustaining Human Rights Culture into the Future.’
As we look to the future, let us reflect on the past.

As we learn the lessons of the past, let us work together confront its devastating legacy.

One of the defining features of the Bill of Rights contained in our Constitution is the inclusion of social and economic rights.

In addition to the right to life, equality and human dignity, our Constitution also says that everyone has the right to housing, health care, food, water, social security and education.

The Constitution says that the state must take reasonable measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of each of these rights.

The Bill of Rights also guarantees the right to property and says the state must work to ensure that citizens have equitable access to land. This property clause makes provision for land reform, restitution and security of tenure to redress the results of past racial discrimination.

This clause would no doubt be welcome by the people who drafted the 1923 Bill of Rights, who declared: “That all Africans have, as the sons of this soil, the God-given right to unrestricted ownership of the land in this, the land of their birth.”

Since the advent of democracy, successive administrations have done much to ensure the progressive realisation of these rights for all South Africans.

The expanding provision of basic services to households has been one of the most important interventions to improve the lives of all South Africans.

According to Statistics South Africa, access to water and sanitation, electricity, housing and other services like waste removal has increased steadily over the last three decades.

Around two million indigent households receive free basic water, free basic electricity and free solid waste removal.

Yet, despite this progress, there are still many people who do not have access to all of these services. Many people live in informal settlements without adequate housing, water or sanitation.

In some municipalities, the provision of these services is unreliable. There are times when water is not provided or is of poor quality, or where refuse is not collected.

The failure to provide adequate services consistently is a human rights issue.

That is why we are working to improve the functioning of local government, which carries the greatest responsibility for the provision of these services.

Through changes to legislation and support programmes, we are working to improve the capacity of public representatives and officials and direct more resources towards maintaining and upgrading local infrastructure.

Government recently re-introduced what are known as the ‘Green Drop’ and ‘Blue Drop’ reports, which detail the state of water provision in municipalities throughout the country. On the basis of these reports, we are undertaking interventions to fix the problems.

There are also a number of water infrastructure projects underway to improve the security of supply of water to key areas across the country.

Another significant intervention against poverty is the provision of social grants, which are the main source of income for about a quarter of households.

Just over 2.5 million people were receiving social grants in 1999. Today, over 18 million people are receiving these grants.

To relieve the pressure on poor households during COVID-19, government introduced the special R350 SRD grant. While this grant has been extended to the end of March 2024, work is underway to provide basic income support for the most vulnerable within the country’s fiscal constraints.

The Bill of Rights says that everyone has the right to a basic education and to further education, which the state must make progressively available and accessible.

Over the last three decades, important progress has been made in access to education.

To ensure every child gets a solid foundation for social and educational development, government has prioritised early childhood development.

The Department of Basic Education, which is now responsible for ECD, is streamlining the requirements for ECD centres to access support and enable thousands more to receive subsidies from government.

South Africa has a significantly high level of enrolment in basic education. In 2019, 96% of six-year-old children attended an education institution.

However, the dropout rate from school is unacceptably high, with the result that less than half of children who start school get a grade 12 pass. This is a problem that the education authorities, school leadership, educators and parents need to work together to address.

An important intervention to improve school attendance and alleviate poverty was the introduction of no-fee schools in poor communities.

We have seen the results of our investment in education in the steady improvement in overall matric pass rate since 1994. From the late 1990s, where the pass rate stood at around 50%, the matric pass rate last year was 80%.

Learners from no-fee schools are steadily performing better in matric, achieving a greater number of bachelor passes.

As part of a commitment to expand access to higher education for students from poor and working class backgrounds the number of students funded by NSFAS increased from 580,000 in 2018 to 770,000 in 2021.

Despite this, as we saw in the last few weeks, many students are still experiencing difficulties in funding their studies, accommodation and living expenses. This year, government plans to finalise the Comprehensive Student Funding Model for higher education. Among other things, this aims to reach those who don’t meet the NSFAS criteria but are still unable to afford tertiary education.

The Bill of Rights says that everyone has the right to have access to health care services, including reproductive health care.

Since the advent of democracy, starting with the provision of free health care to children under 5 years of age and pregnant women, government has made substantial progress in the provision of quality health care, especially to the poor.

However, there is still significant inequality in access to health care.

The National Health Insurance Bill, which is currently before Parliament, is meant to correct this state of affairs. The introduction of the National Health Insurance – or NHI – will enable every South African to receive quality health care regardless of their ability to pay.

We are preparing for the implementation of the NHI through the national quality improvement plan and putting in place the necessary staff and funding. We are improving the quality of care in our clinics through the Ideal Clinic programme. Using the experience of the COVID vaccination record system, we will introduce an electronic solution to improve management of health records.

If we are to advance and secure these social and economic rights into the future then we need to tackle poverty and inequality. We need to create employment and economic opportunity.

To achieve this, to give us the means to enable the progressive realisation of all these rights, we need to grow our economy and achieve far greater levels of investment.

The work that is being undertaken to increase investment in both economic and social infrastructure is a vital part of the effort to improve the provision of services to all South Africans. This includes investment in roads and rural bridges, in new housing settlements, in water schemes and in expanding our electricity network.

By the same measure, the work we are doing to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of our telecommunications industry, electricity system, and ports and railways contributes to increasing investment and employment.

Here in the Northern Cape there are several areas that are attracting new investment, mainly due to the province’s natural resources.

The province’s mining industry continues to grow, while there are new opportunities opening up in new fields such as solar energy and green hydrogen. We welcome the province’s effort to ensure that these projects create further work opportunities by investing in industrial parks and special economic zones.

Government has introduced programmes like the Presidential Employment Stimulus to create public and social employment opportunities for young people in particular. This is happening alongside projects with the private sector to provide work experience for young people and funding to small businesses.

The Bill of Rights guarantees the rights of all people to life, human dignity, freedom and security.

The high levels of violent crime, including crime against women and children, are a direct and brutal violation of these fundamental rights.

Society has come together in different ways to respond to violent crime.

Communities have been working with police through Community Policing Forums. Civil society organisations are working with government to implement the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide. Business is working with law enforcement agencies and state-owned companies to tackle damage to economic infrastructure.

As we increase the presence and the visibility of police, as we strengthen the National Prosecuting Authority and improve the operation of our courts, we need to mobilise everyone in society as part of a national effort to end violent crime.

These are among the most important issues that we need to attend to as a nation if we are to sustain our human rights culture into the future.

We cannot claim to be a country that respects human rights if we do not do everything in our power and within our resources to ensure that all South Africans have access to land, housing, food, water, health care and education.

We cannot claim to respect human rights if we do not do everything we can to ensure all people have access to work and economic opportunity, and to live lives that are comfortable, safe and secure.

There can be no doubt that we have achieved much in securing the rights of all South Africans. But we know from daily experience that we need to do much more.

On this Human Rights Day, let us affirm our determination to realise the rights of all the people who live in this country.

In doing so, we will give effect to the promise of our democratic Constitution, and we will be paying the greatest tribute to the visionary leaders who wrote the first South African bill of rights one hundred years ago.

I wish every South African a happy Human Rights Day.

I thank you.
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