The right to dignity

“The right to dignity is a fundamental basic human right that cannot be separated from the right to education and shelter,” says Phuti Mahanyele, CEO of Cyril Ramophosa’s black economic empowerment (BEE) outfit Shanduka Group, and a Young Global Leader (YGL).

Ahead of Global Dignity Day on 20 October 2012, Mahanyele sheds some light on the ongoing drive to instil a sense of dignity in the minds of young people.

“Dignity is the very foundation of our humanity. Dignity is universal and is the source of human rights,” she asserts.


adopt-a-school-250The Adopt-a-School Foundation acts as a vehicle that helps individuals and corporates to invest effectively in education; over 450 000 children have been assisted since its inception (Photo: Adopt-a-School Foundation)Mahanyele is also the chairperson for Global Dignity for South Africa, a long-running initiative that was started in 2006 by three YGLs who met at the World Economic Forum – they are Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland, and American John Hope Bryant, the founder of Operation HOPE.

The three leaders realised the one thing that everyone in the world wanted was for their dignity to be recognised. Since then they have worked with many YGLs and other partners in over 40 countries, hosting what are known as Dignity Days. This involves visiting local schools and communities and teaching young people about dignity.

In South Africa, the YGLs have partnered with the Adopt-a-School Foundation, the non-profit organisation Africa Empowered, and Brand South Africa for Global Dignity Day.


The aim of Global Dignity is to instil a new, positive, inclusive and interconnected sense of value in young people that will guide them as they grow.

According to Mahanyele, during visits to schools and while talking with pupils, it becomes clear that young people still have impoverished mindsets and negative mental conditioning, regardless of the financial circumstances.

“It could be because of what they see in the media or that they have a particular perception of their surroundings,” she says. “Global Dignity aims to teach them how to live a dignified life despite their surroundings.”


Video: Ahead of Global Dignity Day on 20 October, pupils at Gontse Primary School in the impoverished township of Soshanguve outside Pretoria were given a course on dignity and self-worth by community-driven leaders of South Africa

Global Dignity sends the message that although people are born into different socio-economic circumstances, each person deserves to live a life of dignity by having access to a decent education, healthcare, employment opportunities and security.

By acknowledging existing inequalities, students will see that they have the ability to impact and enrich the lives of others through their own actions.

Shanduka has adopted 140 schools through its Adopt-a-School programme. As part of its contribution to Global Dignity Day, Shanduka is running courses of Dignity Days at these schools.

The Adopt-a-School Foundation acts as a vehicle that helps individuals and corporates to invest effectively in education; over 450 000 children have been assisted since its inception.

“Education in terms of life skills is just as important as being educated in terms of the curriculum,” Mahanyele says. “A lot of young people don’t have the guidance from their parents on how to live a dignified life.

“Education teaches one how to make decisions, and a view of oneself becomes important as well as it empowers you. Living an ordinary life does not mean you cannot make an extraordinary contribution.”


Mahanyele believes that young people play a key role in South Africa’s development. Young people in the townships, she says, are a mirror of where we are today as a society from a morality point of view.

“Young people are looking for inspiration. They have an important role to play in being able to shape our future. Someone needs to run the government of tomorrow and be able to make the tough decisions.”

A panel discussion on education and dignity will take place in Johannesburg on 17 October 2012. It will look at the potential of education in empowering people economically and enhancing their human dignity. The discussion will also introduce the One Laptop Per Child project, which is the flagship project adopted by the YGLs to advance education in South Africa.

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