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Programme Director,
Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa,
Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Mr Ronald Lamola,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Premier of the North West, Mr Kaobitsa Bushy Maape,
Executive Mayor of Bojanala Platinum District Municipality, Cllr M Nondzaba,
Mayor of Kgetlengrivier Local Municipality, Cllr Thabo Jacobs,
Our dikgosi and community leaders present,
Residents of Koster,
Fellow South Africans,

Today is a Human Rights Day of profound significance for so many reasons.

It is the first time in two years that we are able to gather to celebrate this day together.

This is a reminder of how far we have come since the first case of COVID-19 was declared in our country, and we entered a nationwide lockdown to contain its spread.

And now we are here, able to gather in safety, and observing the public health regulations that have become part of our everyday lives.

We are observing Human Rights Day here in the town of Koster in the Kgetlengrivier Local Municipality.

Just as the people of Sharpeville in Gauteng still bear the scars of a tragedy 62 years ago that was fueled by racial hatred, 14 years ago this community was shaken by a terrible crime.

It was a crime made all the worse because it happened in democratic South Africa.

On the 14th of January 2008 a white gunman, Johan Nel, opened fire in the settlement of Skierlik, killing four people and wounding many more.

The shooting of unarmed protestors in Sharpeville on the 21st of March 1960 was the actions of a brutal regime that drew its strength from repression.

The hurt of what took place in Skierlik 14 years ago still cuts deep.

It was a stark reminder to us all that racism did not die with the fall of apartheid.

It showed us that there was much work still to be done to build the bridges of tolerance and understanding in our nation.

We are reminded of this even today when we hear of incidents of racism and intolerance in schools, in workplaces, in communities, in our universities, and in professional sectors.

These incidents sadden and anger us, and they should.

These incidents have no place in our society, where we still struggle to heal the divisions of the past.

We have not allowed these acts of racism and intolerance to define us, or to turn us against each other.

They may have brought back bitter memories of our past, but they have not dragged us back to that past.

We draw our strength, our inspiration and our protection from our Constitution, which was came into effect 25 years ago, after being signed into law in Sharpeville.

The Constitution affirms that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, and commits us to upholding the values of human dignity.

It affirms that our society is rooted in non-racialism and non-sexism.

It holds that our country is founded on the rule of law and that all are equal before the law.

It confirms the right of all adult South Africans to vote and to participate in the political life of their country, a right that was denied them in the past.

Our Constitution calls for the advancement and protection of human rights for all.

It does not matter whether they are men or woman, adult or child, rich or poor, landed or landless, urban or rural dwellers, earners or unemployed, workers or employers, citizens or non-citizens.

The Constitution obliges the state to protect and uphold these rights, and to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are progressively met.

The Constitution is founded on the achievement of equality.

Today, a quarter of a century since the Constitution came into effect, we are confronted by a stark reality.

We are a free people, but we are still a long way from being a nation of equals.

In recent weeks, a number of studies have told us that inequality in South Africa is deepening.

This situation has been made worse by a global pandemic that has now entered its third year.

The pandemic has had a grave impact on the ability of people to lead the lives of dignity promised by our Constitution.

A study by the World Bank notes that South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world, and that race continues to be a key driver of inequality.

If you are black in South Africa – and in particular, a black woman – you are more likely to be poor, to live in an impoverished location, to be unemployed, to have lower levels of education, and not have assets like land.

The legacy of colonialism and apartheid continues to reinforce inequality in many spheres, and undoing these effects has been a momentous task.

Our struggle for freedom was fundamentally about improving the lives of our people.

Over the past 28 years, the country has made significant progress in tackling poverty and deprivation.

We have built houses, hospitals and clinics.

We have implemented universal basic education and free higher education.

The vast majority of our people have access to decent water, sanitation and electricity in their homes.

Society’s most vulnerable are supported by an extensive social welfare system.

Every month, over 46 percent of the population receive a form of social grant.

As we meet here today, we are seeing many of these gains being eroded.

This is not only because of the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of global events far beyond our shores.

It also because many of the people tasked with fulfilling the rights and aspirations of our people have shown they are not worthy of that responsibility.

Instead of serving the people, they served themselves.

We have seen how corruption and incompetence have together had a devastating impact on the delivery of services, especially to society’s most vulnerable.

Corruption and state capture has eroded human rights, it has weakened the institutions of the state, and it has undermined the rule of law.

It is one of the reasons that people here in the Kgetlengrivier Local Municipality – like many others in North West and around the country – experience problems with getting decent drinking water and proper sanitation.

It is one of the reasons why entrepreneurs and businesses struggle to get permits or basic services like water and electricity to keep their businesses running.

Because of corruption our people are forced to pay for services that are their right.

Government infrastructure is vandalised or left to decay so that private service providers can be contracted to take over.

It is because of complacency and arrogance that many elderly citizens cannot receive the medical care they need, communities aren’t being properly protected from criminals, and children don’t have the textbooks they need.

We cannot reduce poverty and inequality as long as public money is being plundered.

We cannot transform our society when people are confronted with arrogance or indifference.

Just as Sharpeville continues to live in our minds and stand as a symbol of courage, the Constitution reminds us to strive for a society that is not only free and equal, but one in which corruption has no place.

In the State of the Nation Address, I called for a new consensus to end poverty, inequality and unemployment.

We have called it a consensus because it must involve all of society.

It must bring together government, business, workers, civil society, community formations and individual citizens.

In forging a new consensus we are reclaiming the responsibility of delivering the promise of the Constitution.

On this Human Rights Day, we remember that it was people’s power that won our freedom.

And it is the power of the people that must take us forward.

There can be no dignity if our children continue to go to bed hungry.

There can be no dignity if our young people are unemployed.

There can be no dignity if access to adequate housing, healthcare, food, water and social assistance is determined by race and class.

My message to all South Africans today is that the Constitution is not a mere piece of paper. It is a document that empowers you.

As much as it places responsibilities on the state, the Constitution also confers duties of citizenship.

We can only win the war against poverty, inequality and unemployment if we rid our society of the ills that continue to set back our progress.

These ills include crime, substance abuse, gender-based violence, damage to essential infrastructure and violence in our schools.

Reclaiming the Constitution must be our common task.

We must obey the law, and report those who break the law.

We must work with the South African Police Service and other law enforcement agencies.

We must join community policing forums to help keep our communities safe, and local businesses should support their work.

We must pay for the public services that we use beyond the basic amount of services that we receive for free.

Trust and confidence in our municipalities can only be restored if we work with them as citizens and play our part so they are restored to sound financial health.

This cannot happen if we refuse to pay for services.

We must take care of public infrastructure and report acts of vandalism that destroy structures built for the benefit of our communities.

As individuals, let us meet our common responsibility to help and care for the elderly, persons living with disabilities, and children.

To build the South Africa we want, we must make our voices heard on the laws and policies that affect us through public hearings and community meetings.

We must be active citizens that support community-based organisations that are performing invaluable work in the places we live.

Another important duty of citizenship is holding to account those tasked with public office.

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