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Premier Sihle Zikalala: International Human Rights Day and 24th anniversary of the signing into law of the SA Constitution

10 Dec 2020

Address by Kwazulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala on International Human Rights Day and 24th anniversary of the signing into law of the SA Constitution, Nelson Mandela Capture Site, Howick, 10 December 2020

Distinguished Guests;

Friends and Compatriots;

International Human Rights Day

We are deeply appreciative that the Department of Sports, Art and Culture decided to mark the 24th anniversary of the signing of our Constitution in our province and at this historic Nelson Mandela Capture Site.

The 10th of December is also International Human Rights Day. It was on this day in 1948 that UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Through this declaration, the United Nations proclaimed humanity’s inalienable rights regardless of race, gender, religion, sex, status, or political affiliation.

In 2020, the world family of nations is commemorating Human Rights Day under the theme: “Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights.” The theme stresses the need for solidarity and for reconstructing our world by ensuring that Human Rights are at the centre of recovery efforts during and in the aftermath of the Covid-19 devastation.

It is a call that we accelerate the fight to end inequalities and discriminations of any kind. It is about deepening human dignity and advancing cooperation, solidarity and sustainable development.

In 1996, President Nelson Mandela signed into law our Constitution on this day in Sharpeville where our freedom martyrs were massacred on 21 March 1960.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, President Mandela said: “Let us give practical recognition to the injustices of the past, by building a future based on equality and social justice.”

For President Nelson Mandela, the Constitution was an embodiment of transformation and an instrument to achieve a South Africa which is truly united, non-racial, non-sexist, equal, and prosperous.

He emphasised that, “the new constitution obliges us to strive to improve the quality of life of the people…there is nothing else that can justify the existence of government but to redress the centuries of unspeakable privations, by striving to eliminate poverty, illiteracy, homelessness and disease.” 

As we commemorate the signing of Our Constitution, we recommit ourselves to create a South Africa and a KwaZulu-Natal that will be free from violence and conflict, where women and children will feel safe and be supported to reach their full potential.

We rededicate ourselves to end the pangs of hunger and the indignity of want. It is us that must deliver a province that is a champion against homelessness, crime, and social ills.

We renew our vows that we will fulfil the promise of freedom and restore the dignity of all our people, especially the vulnerable poor, the disabled, and the aged. We will continue to build a capable developmental state that serves our people selflessly quality basic services with respect, dedication, and humility.

The significance of the Mandela Capture Site

The province of KwaZulu-Natal takes immense pride to regard itself as the special home of our beloved human rights champion, Nelson Mandela. President Nelson Mandela writes with fondness about his many trips to Natal where he interacted with Chief Albert Luthuli and many other leaders in the Congress Movement. His intimate discussions on the formation of Umkhonto weSizwe with Chief Albert Luthuli took place in our province, in Groutville to be specific.

South Africa’s liberation route and indeed Madiba’s journey is incomplete without this very site where we are gathered today. It was here, on 5 August 1962, that he was arrested, leading to his 27 years’ incarceration in various prisons like Robben Island, Pollsmoor, and Victor Verster.

In the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre, Madiba lived as an outlaw, spending much of his life in the underground and in hiding. Evading police arrests and often disguised as chauffer or “garden boy”, he came to be dubbed, the “Black Pimpernel.”

He reminisces in Long Walk to Freedom that: “I travelled secretly about the country: I was with Muslims in the Cape, with sugar-workers in Natal, with factory workers in Port Elizabeth. When I was underground, I remained as unkempt as possible. My overalls looked as though they had been through a lifetime of hard toil”.

On the anniversary of the Freedom Charter, on the 26th of June 1961, Madiba published a letter in the press where he said: “Only through hardship, sacrifice and militant action can freedom be won. The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days”.

History also records that Madiba’s last speech as a free man under apartheid occurred during the All-In-Africa Conference took place in 1961 at the Manaye Hall, at Imbali Township, in Pietermaritzburg.

When he was arrested here by Sergeant Vorster, Madiba was disguised as a chauffeur and was driving back to Johannesburg with his comrade, Cecil Williams.

Describing his night in a cell after his arrest here, Madiba writes: “…and with the combination of mental and physical exhaustion, I soon fell deeply asleep. At least on this night – 5 August 1962 – I did not have to worry about whether the police would find me. They already had.”

Mandela remains a symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation. When he walked out of prison thirty years ago, he was determined to unite his nation and lead it to shared prosperity. Instead of choosing retribution against his jailers and those who oppressed his people, Madiba chose to be merciful and to use our new constitution as a tool for advancing the goals of freedom, justice, and equality.

Tata Madiba was with us in the nineties to quell the violence that had engulfed our province and threatening development.

We also take pride that President Mandela cast his first vote on the 27th of April 1994 at Ohlange, Inanda, an educational institution that was established by Dr JL Dube, the first President-General of the African National Congress. In April 1997, Mandela received the Freedom of our capital city, Pietermaritzburg. Next year, our country will be commemorating the 150-year anniversary of Dr Dube’s birth, who built a solid foundation for the advancement of the liberation struggle. A pioneer of the African media house.

Rule of Law And Bill of Rights

The South African Constitution is praised the world over because it is one of the few Constitutions in the world with the Bill of Rights which is captured in Section 27. We are also one of the few countries with a Constitution that is founded on the cornerstone of human dignity as well as the right to dignity.

It was men and women like Madiba, Tambo, Sisulu, Slovo, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Fatima Meer,  Dr Yusuf Daidoo, Moses Kotane, Moses Mabhioda, George Peake and many more who sacrificed their life to ensure that in a future, free South Africa, our human rights would be guaranteed and protected under the law.

Madiba stood on the shoulders of revolutionary giants. He stood on the shoulders of our kings and queens who never betrayed the cause of freedom. He also stood on the shoulders of the young activists of in the seventies and the eighties who rendered South Africa ungovernable as they demanded freedom in our lifetime. Our Bill of Rights remains etched in the precious blood of freedom martyrs like Vuyisile Mini, Steve Biko, Solomon Mahlangu, Victoria Mxenge, Ruth  First, Andrew Zondo, and Chris Hani.

Speaking on the adoption of the Constitution in 1996, President Ramaphosa who  had led the Constitutional Assembly said that our Constitution, with its Bill of Rights, is “the mirror of South African society. It reflects both the history from which we have emerged, and the values we now cherish - human dignity, equality and freedom. It proclaims to the world that we are a society committed to democracy, to the rule of law and the protection of human rights. It proclaims to all South Africans, the landless, the homeless, the women, the workers and the children of this country, that their basic needs and aspirations matter enough to be included in the country's constitution. It celebrates the richness of the diversity of cultures, religions and beliefs of South Africans, and affirms that all belong as equals in our one nation.”

Compatriots, in 1994, we chose the path of Constitutional democracy and to uphold the rule of law in addressing our challenges and resolving our conflicts.

In 2020, we need to do more to ensure that the poorest of the poor in our country have access to justice, that they have access to free legal aid so that they can be able to enforce their rights.

We applaud organisations like the Legal Resource Centre which for years have been enabling the poor to have legal representation. We also thank many law clinics associated with law schools at our tertiary institutions for helping the poor to enforce their rights. There are also individuals and organisations that offer legal services pro- bono, and we salute them. The need is still huge and we need many more legal eagles to offer their services for free, especially to the many impoverished women who face domestic violence and gender-based abuse. We must refuse as a society that only the rich and powerful can have access to justice.

At this juncture, we urge all our people to embrace the Constitution and to familiarise themselves with this supreme law of the land.

Let us unite and fight the demon of racism that continues to bedevil farming areas, where people are subjected to unspeakable atrocities and inhumane living conditions. Equally, we must fight the killings of farmers and agree that violence and murder is not a solution to our problems. At the end, we must achieve peaceful coexistence and harmony where all people will enjoy decent livelihoods and where their human rights are protected.

Let us strengthen the fight against patriarchal domination which subject women to discrimination and suppression. Women have equal rights like all of us. We must uproot the scourge of gender based violence by ensuring that men take full responsibility in helping our nation in the arrest of rapists and men who ruin the lives of women. Women economic emancipation is key to eliminating patriarchy and gender based violence and must be mainstreamed and executed by all government spheres and departments.  

The Constitution is an expression of the aspirations of our people. It is a living document that must serve the interest of society including redress. Based on the will of the people and the needs of society, it can be amended.

In this regard, we must  forge ahead in reviewing our prescripts that hinder transformation especially section 25 of the Constitution to give effect to land redistribution, including enforcing expropriation of land without compensation.

The recent court judgement on the Black Economic Empowerment clearly calls on us to review the Public Finance Management Act of 1999 to give effect to radical economic transformation. The persistent economic imbalance continues to marginalise the black majority with small and micro enterprises stifled by monopolies. Without enforcing radical economic transformation, blacks in general and Africans in particular will remain at the periphery as if they have no government that they voted to represent their aspirations.   

The task of building a prosperous society is the responsibility of all amongst us. When we say South Africa belongs to all who live in it, we equally mean the betterment of our country lies in our hands, as equal compatriots: African, White, Coloured and Indian communities.

As I conclude, we call on all of us to be mindful that world we live in is still engulfed by the global and deadly pandemic – the covid-19. Let us work together and arrest the outbreak of the second wave which Health Minister Dr Mkhize has said our own province, the Eastern Cape, the Western Cape, and Gauteng are the major contributors to the new alarming figures which have once again gone beyond 6000 in one day. We implore everyone to observe the safety protocols which include the regular washing of hands, social distancing, avoiding handshakes, avoiding crowded places, and wearing face masks.

Let us also be safe on our roads and prevent unnecessary deaths, injuries, and grief.

Together Growing KwaZulu-Natal!

I thank you!

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