22 March 2013
South African President Jacob Zuma, addressing a national Human Rights Day celebration in Mbekweni near Paarl on Thursday, re-affirmed the government’s commitment to building a police service that respected the rights of all South Africans.
Zuma said there had been unfortunate incidents involving the police recently, including the Marikana mining tragedy that took place in North West province in August. While he would not comment on the incident because a commission of inquiry was sitting, Zuma said: “Today we re-affirm our commitment to build a police force service that respects the rights of all South Africans.”
Call to support the police
A total of 200 000 men and women were working in the South African Police Service, and not all of them should be condemned because of the actions of a few, Zuma said, urging all South Africans to support the police in their work.
“We must support them, as well as their efforts to root out rotten apples from their ranks who engage in criminal action, including corruption.”
South Africa’s latest crime statistics showed a further decline in serious crimes, Zuma noted. While crimes against women and children remained at unacceptable levels, the perpetrators were being caught and punished.
“For example, in the past financial year, police secured over 363 life sentences, with a conviction rate of over 70 percent, for crimes against women and girls.”
Zuma said that South Africa’s Constitution recognised more than just political and civil rights. “This was based on the understanding that civil and political rights mean little if they were not accompanied by tangible socio-economic rights.”
These rights, he said, included housing, health care and the right to favourable working conditions.
Because of the deliberate policies of apartheid-era governments, a huge backlog had built up. While this would not be reversed overnight, Zuma pledged that the government would not rest until every household in the country had access to water, electricity, sanitation and other services.
On the government’s social assistance programme, Zuma said the Constitution also recognised social security as a socio-economic right.
The government had increased the number of people receiving grants from 2.7-million in 1994 to 16-million to date. Among these recipients were 2.9-million older people, while 11.5-million were recipients of the child support grant.
“Social grants are government’s most effective poverty alleviation programme.”
We must ‘stop talking our country down’
Thursday’s celebrations coincided with International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, proclaimed by the United Nations in 1966 in memory of the 69 people killed when the South African police opened fire on protestors in Sharpeville on 21 March 1960.
Marking national days enabled the country to reflect on its unfortunate past, Zuma said, adding: “We reflect and draw lessons to build a better and united future.”
Zuma appealed to the nation to work with the government and its social partners to rebuild the country, and in particular to build the economy.
“We should all play our role to make our country attractive to both local and international investors so that the economy can grow and create jobs.”
He added that people should stop talking the economy and the country down, but rather be ready to highlight and acknowledge the achievements of the country’s democracy when making their assessments.