Sowetan Dialogues focus on the Bill of Rights

Dialogues-Mmabatho-600Botho Masigo; Folusho Mvubu; Advocate Pansy Tlakula; Lorraine Mofokeng from Sowetan; Advocate Lawrence Mushwana; Tiseke Kasambala; and Onke Dumeko from Brand SA (Image: Ray Maota)

Brand South Africa, along with the Sowetan, hosted the Sowetan Dialogues in Mafikeng in the North West Province on 26 March 2014 at the Mmabatho Civic Centre.

The Celebrating Human Rights Day: Does the Bill of Rights work for you? public dialogue was one in a six-part series aimed at promoting the pillars of South Africa’s National Development Plan, and promoting civic pride.

The discussion was facilitated by Mafikeng FM radio personality, Botho Masigo, and the panel included: Lawrence Mushwana, a Supreme Court of South Africa advocate; Tiseke Kasambala, southern Africa director of Human Rights Watch; Advocate Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission; and Folusho Mvubu, director of service delivery improvement support at the Department of Public Service and Administration.

The discussion focused on how human rights, South Africa’s Bill of Rights, and traditional practices intersect.

Human rights are moral principles that set out certain standards of human behaviour, and are regularly protected as legal rights in national and international law.

The Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of South Africa’s democracy, enshrining the rights of all people in the country and affirming the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.

RIGHTS MEET TRADITION

Tlakula began her talk mentioning a case she dealt with in the late 1990s.

“In the early days of democracy I was confronted with a case of a minor who was married off by her family from KwaZulu-Natal when she was 16 years old. She lived with the husband in Katlehong in the east of Johannesburg. We arrested the husband as well as the father of the girl and successfully prosecuted them,” said Tlakula.

She cited the case to show how universal human rights would sometimes be at odds with traditional practices that have been practised for years, and described how this could have a negative impact on the person being protected.

Tlakula said: “I was happy that we successfully protected a minor but this had a negative impact on her, as, when she turned 18 years old and could leave the place of protection we had kept her at, she had no place to go as she was ostracised from her village for getting her father arrested for a practice that had been going on for years.”

Tlakula said that in trying to protect her human rights at all costs, they had displaced a young girl.

SA AT THE FOREFRONT OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Kasambala said that through her work with Human Rights Watch, it was safe to say that South Africa was leading in human rights in Africa, but that it “should not relax”.

“There are issues that need to be highlighted, for example police brutality, verbal attacks on media, attacks on differences of sexuality, as well as xenophobia,” she said.

Kasambala said that to see if rights are being respected, one should look at local government for a start. She referred to a Human Rights Watch statement saying that “Despite South Africa’s strong constitutional protections for human rights and its relative success at providing basic services, the government is struggling to meet demands for economic and social rights. Financial mismanagement and corruption – especially at the local government level – have contributed to this issue.

The killing of 34 miners at the Lonmin Platinum Mine in Marikana, North West Province, in August of 2012 shocked South Africans and highlighted increasing concerns over police brutality and underlying grievances over the government’s failure to fulfil basic economic and social rights. Bills have been proposed that, if enacted, would negatively affect media freedom and access to justice.”

GET FAMILIAR WITH BILL OF RIGHTS

Mushwana said that citizens need to familiarise themselves with the Bill of Rights so they know exactly what to complain about; he talked about an incident in the rural town he comes from in Polokwane.

“People need to familiarise themselves with the Bill of Rights because you cannot protect what you do not know,” Mushwana said.

“For example, a town I come from in Polokwane called Lorraine had people protesting recently for them to get a mall. To tell the truth the town has less than 3000 people and not all have the buying power to make big business want to build a mall there.”

Mushwana also talked about violent service delivery protests taking place in South Africa.

“Those protesting need to protect the credibility of their protest by protecting it from external forces that sometimes join protests so they can commit crimes,” he said.

Mushwana concluded, saying it was in the hands of every individual to make sure the Bill of Rights is adhered to and that no one’s rights are violated.