Human Rights Day 2020

By March 21, 2020 March 23rd, 2021 Thought Pieces

In 1996 the South African Bill of Rights came into full effect with all hope and promise of a more dignified living for all who lived in South Africa. The Constitutional court came into effect and with it came brilliant, internationally lauded judgements on human rights. South Africa was hailed as a global hero, a nation that transitioned over night from oppressive regime to democratic; from impunity to transparency and from inhumane to dignified. 22 March, Human Rights day is marked with a lot fun fair and celebrations such as the human rights festival on Constitution Hill and musical concerts around the country.
However, far removed from the artistic and indie settings of the Constitution Hill human rights festivals, beyond the corridors of deep riveting legal debates, in the heart of rural Kwa-Zulu Natal the reality of the constitution is very different. Sadly, for these residents in the deep South Coast, the Bill of Rights is nothing more than a piece of paper whose protections are reserved for the privileged few. The concept of human rights, in their most basic form, is far removed from their lived experience.
In this human rights month, which coincides with International Women’s month it might be beneficial to take a short journey through one woman’s experience with human rights dispensation in South Africa. This will provide us with a sobering reminder that amidst the joy of a public holiday and festivals, there are those who are not yet uhuru and our battles have only just begun. Sthe (not her real name) was born in 1994, the same year that South Africa became ‘free’.
• The paramount Rights of the Child
Growing up, Sthe was exposed to the constant violence in her home with her father physically abusing his entire family. Toxic patriarchy was the order of the day with her worth as a girl child constantly subverted because she was not a boy. All children deserve to be protected, and the constitution grants them that right but this was not Sthe’s story. From physical abuse to an uneven share of the burden of responsibility for household work, her childhood was cruelly stolen from her.
• The Right to Education
Access to education is meaningless without the necessary tools to ensure that all children can effectively attend school, and learn in a safe environment. Having a battle field as a home naturally affected Sthe’s grades. After failing 7th grade for a second time, the local primary and high schools refused to admit her because they said that she lacked the necessary intellect. There were no assessments provided to her by the Department of Education to evaluate why she was failing out, no social workers were alerted, no further steps were taken to assist her. The system failed her, and she was forced to leave school.
• The Right to Bodily Integrity and Security of the Person
The first time Sthe was raped was by a man over twenty years her senior was at the tender age of 14. The man was a known pervert and when the other children reported that he had dragged her into the bushes, the community rallied to save her, sadly it was too late by the time they found her. She had been raped. The response from the community was a demand for immediate justice, with no trust being placed in the police. The rapist was beaten to death right in front of her. And after his death, there would be no further interventions from the police or social workers to follow up. There would be various sexual assaults in the years to follow and attempted rapes. The last time Sthe was raped was by her own father at the age of 18. Sadly when she reported this to the police, she was accused her of being the girl who was easily raped. The accusation was that if she keeps being sexually violated then there must be something about her that invites it.
• The Right to Housing
After her father raped her, as with most sexual predators, he was repulsed by her and did not want to see her. He then kicked her out of the family home and said she was a trouble maker. When her mother came to her defence, both mother and daughter were evicted from the family home (despite the fact that for years the mother had been the sole bread winner and had built that home without any assistance from her husband). Sthe was forced to go from door to door seeking shelter. Her local induna would not consider allocating land to her as he had for brothers because as a young woman, she should just wait for marriage and she would go and live with her husband then.
There is not enough time to go into all the human rights that Sthe has not the enjoyment of. It can be hard to imagine that this is the life of one person in a country with so many protections on paper. Sharing Sthe’s story is not to say that we must not celebrate how far we have come as a nation. It is to say, where it matters the most, ensuring that human rights are enjoyed, we still have a long way to go. This is why setting up organisations in rural areas that can begin to bring the reality of a human rights dispensation closer to the people is vital. This is the only way that the promise of a better tomorrow will be enjoyed by all South Africans.

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