Memorial Lecture on Human Rights by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, at the Lesedi Youth Advisory Center, Vereeniging, 2 June 2007

Programme Director: Councillor Maipato Tsokolibane
Councillor Mlungise Hlongwane, Executive Mayor of the Sedibeng District Municipality
Councillor Busi Modisakeng, Executive Mayor of the Lesedi Local Municipality
Representatives of the Umsobomvu Youth Fund
Representatives from the National Youth Commission
Representatives of youth structures in Gauteng
Representatives of Political Parties
Civil, Business and Religious Representatives
Distinguished Guests
Comrades and Friends
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you for inviting me to deliver this Memorial Lecture on Human Rights and to celebrate the opening of the Lesedi Youth Advisory Centre. I have been asked to speak about the importance of human rights in the world context and within that to locate our own history as a people.

There have been a few significant milestones in the global struggle for the recognition of human rights. This history is important especially for the youth of our country, since it offers us a lens through which to view where we have come from and where we want to go.

We can only improve our lives and that of a broader humanity if we know our history, if we are fully aware of the extent of the horrors of the past, and the abuses of power. Only this knowledge can enable us to put systems in place, principled positions and practices, which prevent such situations from ever happening again.

As we seek to understand the past and to claim the present and the future, we need to learn the lessons that previous generations have bequeathed to us.

We need to acknowledge that a lot of work was done even in the 19th century to promote and to enshrine human rights. The women's movement for emancipation gained a lot of ground in the late 19th century, although most countries only accepted universal suffrage in the 20th century. Similarly, the struggle against slavery and racism in the 18th century was an important step towards an acceptance of equality between peoples, but it would take the work of a different generation to take this struggle even further.

In the twentieth century, the struggle for the recognition of human rights in the world reached a new height with the adoption of the United Nations (UN) Charter.

The importance of the UN Charter

More than 60 years ago, the countries of the world gathered on the shores of San Francsico to adopt the United Nations Charter.

The opening words of the UN Charter put the adoption of the charter into its proper context - this was the aftermath of the Second World War and the leadership sought to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war".

In so doing, they recognized that there was a need to establish an organization with a global reach to ensure full respect for fundamental human rights, to establish conditions under which justice and the rule of law could be upheld. They called for the promotion of social progress and better quality of life for larger freedom.

This was an important turning point in world history, because through this founding charter, fundamental recognition was given to the importance of human rights on the globe and with this, came the right to criticize and censor those countries, who violated human rights.

According to the Charter, for these ends, there was the collective need to

  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security,
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institutions of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples.

The General Assembly of the UN in 1948 went a step further with the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The preamble of this important declaration recognized the "inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" as "the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world" and acknowledged the need for a world in which all would enjoy "freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want." Indeed, this was regarded as "the highest aspiration of the common people."

What stood out was the acceptance that this Declaration would be a "common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations."

The first article declared that:

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

Among others, the Human Rights Declaration gave everyone the right to life, liberty and security. It said that every human being has the right to enjoy life free from fear or want. It outlawed slavery and torture, arbitrary arrest and detention. It promoted the rule of law: "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law."

It allowed freedom of movement within the borders of the state, the right to a nationality, the right to own property, the right to freedom of expression, the right to work and the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to education which "shall be free" in the fundamental stages."

The Declaration also embraced democratic governance so that "the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government", and so that there should be elections and universal and equal suffrage.

Most importantly is that the Declaration offered protection: "Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized."

The struggle for South Africa

Our own struggle for liberation as a South African people showed how segregation and apartheid could deny fundamental human rights to our people, how at each and every point of the way, rights were eroded and taken away.

As early as May 1952 Nkosi Albert Luthuli highlighted that:

"…the past thirty years have seen the greatest number of laws restricting our rights and progress until today we have reached a stage where we have almost no rights at all: no adequate land for our occupation, our only asset, cattle, dwindling, no security of homes, no decent and remunerative employment, more restriction to freedom of movement through passes, curfew regulations, influx control measures; in short we have witnessed in these years an intensification of our subjection to ensure and protect white supremacy."

Later Luthuli also highlighted The Group Areas Act, Industrial Laws, the Separate Amenities Act, the suppression of freedom of speech, the land laws and the pass laws (that denied freedom of movement), as well as the laws promoting separate education as denying the rights of black people.

He boldly asserted that the ANC represented the true and fundamental aspirations of African people and that their aspirations and views "conform to the United Nations Charter and the International Declaration of Human Rights."

In 1963 speaking to the Special Political Committee of the UN General Assembly, comrade OR Tambo pointed out that:

"I cannot believe that this world body, the United Nations, could stand by, calmly watching what I submit is genocide masquerading under the guise of a civilised dispensation of justice. The African and other South Africans who are being dragged to the slaughter house face death, or life imprisonment, because they fearlessly resisted South Africa's violations of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, because they fought against a Government armed to the teeth and relying on armed force, to end inhumanity, to secure the liberation of the African people, to end racial discrimination, and to replace racial intolerance and tyranny with democracy and equality, irrespective of colour, race or creed."

In this manner began a process in which international support was garnered for the South African struggle, yet it was only in 1976 that OR Tambo addressed a full plenary meeting of the General Assembly on the South African struggle. He appealed to those present that:
"We are in the forefront of a struggle in South Africa whose victorious outcome is demanded not only by our people but also by the imperative of world peace. We have come here and spoken to try to get the rest of humanity that loves freedom and peace to renew its pledge in word and deed to support our people until power is restored into their hands."
The statements that the leaders of the ANC propounded in international platforms were also true to one of the most important documents of the South African liberation movement; and that is the Freedom Charter.
In line with the UN Human Rights Declaration, the Freedom Charter declared that
· that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people;
· that our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality;
· that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities;
· that only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief;
The Charter went further in not only recognizing the reality that was the experience of black South Africans, but it also sought to generalize and universalize rights, in this way attacking the very foundations of apartheid thinking and giving equal rights to every one across the board.
This is very important because it chose not to discriminate but rather to build a common and shared foundation in which all people could feel that they were active participants in building something new. It outlawed racism, it gave everyone equal rights and it also promoted democratic practices and indeed the strengthening of democracy at every level. It also addressed the deep-rooted sexism in South African society by insisting on the equality of women.
· Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and to stand as a candidate for all bodies which make laws;

  • All people shall be entitled to take part in the administration of the country;
  • The rights of the people shall be the same, regardless of race, colour or sex;
  • All bodies of minority rule, advisory boards, councils and authorities shall be replaced by democratic organs of self-government.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s when representatives of the liberation movement appeared before the UN, they used their presence to press the UN for economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa. The World Council of Churches took the important step in declaring apartheid "as a crime against humanity". This was a watershed moment because it represented what had become a widespread perception and condemnation of the apartheid system as criminal - as a human rights violation even in its thinking and as a threat to international peace.

The events that took place in 1960 in Sharpeville with the killing of 69 black marchers and the injuring of more than 300, together with the realization that most of the deaths were as the result of shooting in the back, led to a greater consciousness in the world community about the realities of apartheid.

The brutal state response to the peaceful marches and struggle of the youth in 1976 gave further impetus to the view that apartheid had to go. The subsequent deaths in detention of our leaders and the imprisonment of thousands of people brought the horror of apartheid home to the international community - as innocent school children were killed by heavily armed policemen.

However, while mass international support for a free South Africa grew, it would still be another decade before South Africa gained its own liberation with the first democratic elections held in 1994 and the adoption of the New Constitution in 1996.

Enshrined in the Constitution was the Bill of Rights, the objectives of which were in line with the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The Bill of Rights gave every South African full equality before the law, but it also sought to define 'equality' and to set the parameters of that equality. Thus it states that:

"Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms. To promote the achievement of equality, legislative and other measures designed to protect or advance persons, or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination may be taken. The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth."

The Bill of Rights also gave rights to the Child. It states that:

"Every child has the right ­
to a name and a nationality from birth;
to family care or parental care, or to appropriate alternative care when removed from the family environment;
to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services;
to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation;
to be protected from exploitative labour practices;
not to be required or permitted to perform work or provide services that
are inappropriate for a person of that child's age; or
place at risk the child's well-being, education, physical or mental health or spiritual, moral or social development."

In a country where in the mid seventies, the children and the youth had taken it upon themselves to lead the struggle for freedom, it was very important that the rights of a child be spelled out. The catalyst that had brought about the youth uprising of 1976 was the widespread rejection of the education system. The Bill of Rights went on to recognize the importance of access to education that would take into account "Equity, practicability and the need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices."

South Africa went even further with the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to investigate gross violations of human rights.

As a country, we also demonstrated our support for non-racialism and for a world free of racism by hosting the UN World Conference Again Racism, Xenophobia and All Forms of Intolerance. This important event took further the struggle for full equality of all the world's people and for a more inclusive world.

Solidarity with human rights struggles elsewhere

The struggle for a human rights culture had also suffered setbacks in the late 1970s with popular and democratically elected governments replaced with dictatorships. The abuse of human rights took place in a number of such countries:

  • The Pinochet regime in Chile that took over in a coup in 1973 unleashed human rights abuse on its population. Later the Chileans had their own commission to investigate this human rights abuse.
  • In Argentina the military junta killed thousands resulting in cases of human rights violations being brought later to the courts. In Argentina we witnessed the added dimension of campaigns to trace missing activists and civilians who it seemed had disappeared; and it took organizations of mothers and especially women affected by this to put great pressure on the state and the international community.
  • In Nicaragua similarly a right wing government took over that inflicted human rights abuses against its own people. In this case as in some others, children were also used to torture others. In the period that followed this country had to put in place programmes to rehabilitate this youth who had been forced to work an evil and injust system.
  • In South East Asia military juntas also abused human rights. The world also turned its attention to these places to try to halt the human rights violations that were taking place.
  • Sierra Leone experienced 11 years of brutal armed conflict during which the people suffered, as civilians were murdered, women and girls used as sex slaves and adults and children were abducted and used as forced labour or fighters.
  • The people of Liberia also experienced immense suffering under the military junta and the war that followed. On Monday the trial of former President Charles Taylor for war crimes commences in the Hague.

In all these places, it has only been that after the restoration and / or establishment of democracy that these countries could begin to address the human rights violations that had taken place.

Since 1994 South Africa has chosen to champion the rights of others whose rights are still being trampled upon, including the right to self-determination.

· Hence South Africa continues to give support to the people of Western Sahara and the Polisario Front in particular in their struggle for self-determination.

· We continue to support the struggle of the Palestinians for self-determination and the right to live in their own state in peace and freedom. We continue to speak out against the abuse of the rights of Palestinians by the Israelis and to call upon the Palestinians themselves to unite and to address the future together and to engage in dialogue.

· In the same period in which we attained our own freedom, Rwanda was in the midst of an internal struggle for power in which almost a million people mainly of Tutsi background but including progressive Hutus were killed in a terrible genocide. In the aftermath of this horrific period in Africa's history, South Africa supported the new government of Rwanda in its efforts towards national reconciliation and took up the training of this country's civil servants, among other partnership projects.

· We continue to press for an end to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan and are working within the AU and the UN and calling for a hybrid force to be fast-tracked for the speedy resolve of the problems of this region. The conflict has spilt over to neighbouring Chad where it is reported that the militia have attacked civilians.

  • Closer to home in Zimbabwe, President Thabo Mbeki has been mandated by SADC to facilitate dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition so that they can begin to address the crisis in this country.
  • The situation in Myanmar has also warranted our attention as part of the international community.
  • We are at present on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations where we are also making our voices heard about human rights violations.
  • We also have faith in the UN Peacebuilding Commission and its capabilities to assist countries coming out of conflict and to help them on the path to post-conflict reconstruction.

In recent years, we have also seen once again the violation of human rights of those who are imprisoned or held in detention in Guatanamo Bay and other detention centres spread through the world. The situation in Iraq also continues to bring suffering to the people of this country and the region.

It is important in all these instances that the promotion and protection of human rights should not be seen in isolation, but rather as dependent on permanent peace and sustained development.

We concur with Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General, when he states that:

"The notion of larger freedom also encapsulates the idea that development, security and human rights go hand in hand….Not only are development, security and human rights all imperative; they also reinforce each other. This relationship has only been strengthened in our era of rapid technological advances, increasing economic interdependence, globalization and dramatic geopolitical change. While poverty and denial of human rights may not be said to "cause" civil war, terrorism or organized crime, they all greatly increase the risk of instability and violence."

Annan supports his view by giving examples where it is clear that human rights go hand in hand with other related concerns:

"Even if he can vote to choose his rulers, a young man with AIDS who cannot read or write and lives on the brink of starvation is not truly free. Equally, even if she earns enough to live, a woman who lives in the shadow of daily violence and has no say in how her country is run is not truly free. Larger freedom implies that men and women everywhere have the right to be governed by their own consent, under law, in a society where all individuals can, without discrimination or retribution, speak, worship and associate freely. They must also be free from want - so that the death sentences of extreme poverty and infectious disease are lifted from their lives - and free from fear - so that their lives and livelihoods are not ripped apart by violence and war. Indeed, all people have the right to security and to development."

In our country even thirteen years into our new democracy, our quest is to strengthen our democracy and our human rights culture. We do so with the understanding that development must go hand in hand with democracy. That the right to education, the right to shelter, the right to security, go hand in hand with the development agenda.

In this regard, we also recognize the importance of the rights of youth to education, to shelter, to recreation, to security, to employment and equal opportunities, to nutrition and health services, the right to equality, the right to freedom of expression and assembly, the right to a vibrant cultural life.

Thus we have established the National Youth Commission. We have also seen the single largest investment made to youth development in our country through the Umsombovu Youth Fund - which is also the main partner to the municipality in this youth advisory centres initiative.

We have seen massive investments in education and in grants for children whose parents cannot support them. We have seen the start of Public Works programmes and other opportunities where youth can come on board as cadets and interns to learn new skills so as to be better placed to get employment or to make their own path through becoming entrepreneurs.

Yet we need to acknowledge that after 13 years, there is still a long way to go for our youth to fully benefit from our freedom. There is still no free education. Our youth still bear the brunt of unemployment, therefore they cannot see to their own livelihood.

We need to take seriously our efforts in looking after youth, giving them love, care and compassion, security and access to education.

We should socialize our children in a way that they will respect people's rights.

This is important because what society gives youth, youth in the future will give back to that very society. One can judge a country on how it treats its youth. The youth are the most important present and future resource. An investment in youth is an investment in the future. Therefore we need to focus on this investment especially in education, in skills and in training.

But with the rights that youth are entitled to also come obligations, duties, and responsibilities.

  • The first priority is of course that of learning and acquiring knowledge and skills through education. This is important because it is not sustainable to build a country with skills that come from outside. In all professions we need more than what we have - we do not have enough doctors, nurses, engineers.
  • Secondly, youth should also take responsibility in living clean and healthy lives free of drugs and alcohol abuse.
  • Youth should act responsibly in terms of awareness of HIV/AIDS and protecting themselves and fortifying their relationships.
  • Youth need to use their energies and creative capacity to excel in sports and in the arts and in cultural development.
  • Youth must be involved in political organizations and other structures in civil society so that they actively shape the new world that will inherit.
  • Youth need to promote peace and a caring society, so that no youth inflicts violence upon another at school, so that drug taking becomes a thing of the past.
  • Young people need to take advantage of the political space created by our democracy. They need to defend the gains we have made and further advance them because youth rights are human rights and human rights are youth rights.
  • Youth need to defend the rights of women and children and further accelerating the struggle for gender equality. Our young people need to learn and practise the values necessary to guide our society for the attainment of a truly non-sexist, non-racial and democratic reality.
  • The previous generations spent their energies fighting for freedom, but the struggle now for development must continue with the same vigour.
  • Part of the obligations that comes with this is a civic responsibility to work within communities to improve the lives of others.
  • Wherever there are energetic young people in a community, they should ensure that everyone in that area has an ID, that everyone who qualifies can access the necessary grants, that everyone can get access to information about public services and opportunities.
  • Youth have always been able to see the world with new eyes and to add value to our lives. The way in which we approach development can be enhanced by creative and innovative strategies that our youth can help to devise.

Every generation takes it upon itself (according to Frantz Fanon, the important Pan-African intellectual) to discover its mission. We would want the present generation of youth to take its place firmly in supporting the agenda for our country and continent's development.

Our own development also is connected with the development of other countries in our region and of the continent as a whole. Part of the responsibility of youth is to interact with others in the region and on the rest of the continent.

Part of working in this society involves taking a keen interest in developing the African continent. I believe there are opportunities for our youth to interact with young people all over the continent and the African Diaspora with the aim of shaping the future of the continent and understanding the interconnection between themselves where they are and that of youth everywhere.

One of our greatest challenges is ensuring that we continue to entrench the culture of human rights with the understanding that youth rights are indeed human rights. This should translate into youth taking a stand about youth involvement in conflict, as child soldiers, as prostitutes, as the victims of trafficking, so as to defend their rights as the youth and in defence, broadly speaking, of human rights in general.

Through youth forums and networks they should amplify their voice against such abuses and continue to create space for youth development. There should be initiatives such as Youth in Dialogue.

We also have a critical role to protect children's rights and to expose any wrongdoing in our communities that undermines the rights of the child.

Our youth should also take the lead as well to make certain behaviour in our communities socially unacceptable.

At this Lesedi Youth Centre, the youth should constitute a critical mass of activists for social change and broad transformation and offer their support in the implementation of some of our programmes.

For some of this may appear to be a difficult task. But you need to be aware that only you, through own efforts, can bring about changes to your lives, to those of your community and the country as a whole.

I am reminded of the words of the author, Ben Okri, in his book called In Arcadia.
Okri tells us the story of someone who dies and finds himself at Heaven's Gate. He tells the following story:

"A mysterious person meets you at the entrance. You ask to be admitted. The mysterious person insists first on a conversation about the life you have lived. You complain that you had no breaks, that things didn't work out for you, that you weren't helped, that people brought you down, blocked your way, that your father didn't love you, that your mother didn't care, that economic times were bad, that you didn't have the right qualifications, that you didn't belong to the right circle, that you weren't lucky, in short you pour out a veritable torrent of excuses. But for every excuse you bring forth the mysterious person points to little things here and there that you could have done, little mental adjustments you could have made. He gently offers you examples of where, instead of giving up, you could have been more patient. Tenderly, he shows you all the little things that you could have done, within the range of your ability, your will, that would have made a difference. And as he offers these alternatives you see how perfectly they make sense, how perfectly possible the solutions were, how manageable. You see how, by being more alive to your life, and not panicky and afraid, things could have been so much more livable, indeed, quite wonderful.

You suddenly see that you could have been perfectly happy all the time you were perfectly miserable. That you could have been free instead of a prisoner. That you could have been one of the radiant ones of the earth. That living could have been fun. It could have been worthwhile. That life could have been a playground of possibilities. It could have been a laboratory of intelligence and freedom. Experiments in the art of astonishment…. Living is the place of secular miracles. It is where amazing things can be done in consciousness and history."

As Okri explains, it is our mindsets that have to change. We need to learn to make adjustments to set us free. We need to be confident to do amazing things and to make possible what seems now to be impossible.
Let this centre be a playground of possibility.
Let the youth here do amazing things.

For only in this way can we actually say that we have travelled and have made a distance on the journey towards our freedom as a South African people.

Only in this way can we fulfil our dreams of an African renaissance.

I thank you.

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