Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) joins the rest of the country in commemorating Freedom Day in the Year of Charlotte Maxeke, amidst the COVID19 pandemic. The advent of South Africa’s first universal suffrage with a democratic multi-party system was peaceful and ushered the country into a new trajectory founded on freedom, human dignity, equality, non-discrimination, transparency, and accountability. It is now 27 years since South Africa transitioned from apartheid to peaceful constitutional democracy. However, we are beginning to see cracks in our political dispensation.
We commend our President and his government for having dedicated this year and Freedom Day to the memory of Charlotte Maxeke. We also honour the memory of the first democratically elected President of a free non- racial Republic of South Africa, Tata Nelson Mandela. We must however take hid of the warning he expressed, should we stray away from the gains that we have achieved with hard earned freedom. What President Mandela said at the time was “If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government”. Emeritus Arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu also expressed the same sentiments and warned the ANC and the government out of love not to take the people of South Africa for granted by blatantly displaying corruption, by looking after their own pockets to enrich themselves, and looting the state coffers of the country. Should they continue this path they risk to be voted out of power by the disgruntled voters. Oliver Thambo also said, “A corrupt ANC will be far worse than apartheid”. Chris Hani also feared should the ANC become elitist, when he said, “what I fear is that the liberators emerge as elitists who drive around in Mercedes Benz’s and use the resources of this country in palaces and to gather riches”! The nation should also be guided by the word of wisdom expressed by Former President Thabo Mbeki’s when he spoke about Ubuntu in the context of African Renaissance “I AM because you are, You are because I Am”.
These icons of our liberation struggle were prepared to put their lives on the line to safeguard our hard-earned victory in liberating our country from the subjugation of racial oppression and apartheid rule. Today basic human rights are guaranteed in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. What we are witnessing in the country, is a deterioration of fundamental values leading to the extra judicial executions of HRDs, CSOs, whistle-blowers, police impunity, and shrinking of CSOs.
HURISA advocates for the enactment of a law to protect CSO activists and HRDs to perform their work without threats of intimidation, harassment, and possible death. This proposed act should also safeguard the rights of the press to report freely without fear or favour, including whistle-blowers on corrupted activities.
We are also reminded of the gross human rights violations perpetrated in the past. What comes to mind are the following CSO activists, HRDs, and whistle blowers.
1.We are reminded of the disappearance of Nomawethu Kunene (“Papi”) who was instrumental in exposing the corruption underpinning the “Life Esidimeni” tragedy in the beginning of 2018.
2.Themsile Yende formerly employed by Eskom, was believed to be privy to sensitive information pertaining to corruption infested in the state own entity. In May 2017, her body was allegedly moved three days after the murder and placed in her office storeroom.
3.Papi Tobias from Boiketlong in Gauteng disappeared in February 2016 and his whereabouts remain unknown to date,
4.Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe-From Bizana in the EC was killed in March 2016. He led a community-based campaign against an Australian company attempting to mine titanium in the area.
5.Land rights activists and shack dwellers have also been targeted for their work. On 17 December 2017, Soyiso Nkqayini and Smanga Mkhinze were attacked by unknown assailants. Nkqayini was killed, while Mkinze was left seriously injured. S’fiso Ngcobo of the social movement Abahlali base Mjondolo have been killed in very suspicious circumstances.
6.Fikile Ntshangase was shot dead by four gunmen on 22 October 2020, in her home in Mtubatuba, KwaZulu Natal province. She was part of the Somkhele community, living near the Tendele coal mine, owned by Tendele Coal Mining (PTY) Ltd, a subsidiary of Petmin. As Vice Chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO). She was vocal in her concerns about the coal mine’s operations. It was also reported that she was unwilling to sign an agreement with the company to withdraw court cases relating to their existing operations and proposed expansion plans, which would displace 21 families from their ancestral land.
We commend the law enforcement agencies for having brought to book the assailants and the suspects successfully convicted and sentenced,
1.Ngobile Nzuza of the Abahlali base Mjondolo movement in Kwazulu-Natal killed by a police officer at a roadblock in 2013 to 10-year imprisonment in 2018.
2.Thulisile Ndlovu of Abahlali was killed in 2014. In May 2016, the Durban High Court found three accused persons guilty of her murder and sentenced them to 12 years in prison.
3.Sindiso Maqaqa was a high-profile politician, a local councillor, and the former Secretary General of the ANC Youth League. He was killed in 2017 after exposing widespread corruption in the local municipality. Three men have been charged for his murder.
4.Thabiso Zulu a close ally of Sindiso Maqaqa has been in hiding since the latter’s killing in 2017. He has faced assassination attempts and sought witness protection from the state.
The government needs to do more as a beacon of human rights to defend citizens, ensuring no one is left behind. Crack down crime syndicates to stop heinous crimes, assassinations, and sponsored murders in the country. Appropriate and consistent protection should be provided to vulnerable individuals and communities, including women, children, LGBTIQ+, refugees, people with disabilities, people with albinism, indigenous communities, the elderly, farmers, and farm workers. On-going sensitisation public programmes should be seen as effective transformative strategy with legal frameworks and adopted national action plans to promote the inviolability of the right to life, emphasising unity, solidarity, coexistence in the society, free creativities to lessen conflicts and dependence on the state. Protect citizens against exploitation by multinational corporations and rather apply the constitutional imperatives in creating equitable job opportunities. Prevent situations that take advantage of land and mining rights activists and promote free public participation in policy making, freedom of expression and opinion, including ensuring the environment for academic research and analysis is free from intimidation and harassment.