Speech from Mrs Thandi Nontenja (UDM National Treasurer) to be delivered at the Department of Arts and Culture Human Rights Day
The Minister of the Department of Arts and Culture, Premier of Gauteng – Nomvula Mokonyane Leaders of other Political Parties Fellow South Africans:
It is an honour and a privilege to be part of the commemoration of what we used to call Sharpeville Day back then. It is befitting for this day to be called Human Rights Day as the rights of those who were marching on that day were violated by the police under the apartheid regime.
Today I want to discuss issues that relate to the challenges we faced as a nation. These challenges form the basis of our common humanity. What happened on that day? More than 50 years ago when the police in Sharpeville saw the masses marching towards them they opened fire, killing approximately 69 individuals and injuring hundreds.
The scars are deeply embedded. On a daily basis we remember where we have been as a nation and where we want to be. We want to ensure that human dignity, equality and freedom are always entrenched in the lives of our people.
Presently, there are so many questions posed about police brutality in South Africa. Police management is a major problem, this includes; poor training, disrespect for law, lack of accountability, criminals within police ranks and so on. You will recall that the South African Human Rights Commission has also expressed its concerns about policing.
The United Democratic Movement (UDM) believes that Human Rights Day should be celebrated in the spirit of pride and joy of our human rights as described in our constitution. The terrible irony is that there have been so many human rights abuses in the past few years like Andries Tatane killing, the Marikana massacre, Madibeng killings, Bekkersdal, the list is endless. This is even more disturbing, when one considers that the government, which should be the custodian of this beautiful piece of legislation, has become a culprit in the abuse of human rights as evidenced by our police’s “shoot first, ask later” doctrine. Government has an undisputable responsibility to take action to end violence and not perpetrate it. Respect for human dignity is a value which should be cherished. People cannot be tortured or be treated in a cruel, inhumane or degrading way.
As leaders, let us send a positive message to South Africans at large. Let us remind them about their Human Rights but emphasise the fact that with rights comes responsibility. The UDM believes that whoever violates someone else’s rights forfeits his or her own rights. We cannot have a situation where criminals have more rights than law abiding citizens.
The state has a major role to play. The government has to create rules and laws that would guide the behaviour of individuals in the society. Institutions such as the Human Rights Commission must play an active role in the promotion and protection of human rights. We also need a strong national program on human rights education.
When people look at their past they have to see a difference in their future. We need to be the authors of a new book where we can tell a new story. A story of a perfect nation that respects the rights of every South African.
I thank you.