Remember the Poor while Celebrating Human Rights Day

James Masango MPL

DA Chief Whip in the Mpumalanga Legislature

The following is an address, as delivered by James Masango, during the Snap Debate on Human Rights Day to the Mpumalanga Legislature.   Honourable speaker, while we will be celebrating Human Rights Day on 21 March 2012, we must remember the 69 people killed at Sharpeville and the 20 killed in Langa for protesting pass laws. We must also remember all freedom fighters who were arrested, tortured and killed for these freedoms and rights we enjoy today.   Similarly, while celebrating and remembering the heroes and heroines of the freedom struggle, we cannot make the mistake of forgetting the poor, vulnerable and homeless people who do not know when their next meal is going to be.   Honourable Speaker, South Africa has the best constitution in the world and the Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of our democracy. It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.   Our constitution guarantees the right to life. But you can only survive when you have a job and have something to eat. And this is the challenge facing South Africa today. We have too many people who are unemployed and living in poverty. Once you are unemployed and cannot provide your family with food, you start to lose respect from your family, neighbours and community members – and ultimately you find yourself with no dignity at all.   The conditions in which so many of our people live in are actually taking away their dignity. Much still needs to be done to restore the dignity of the poor and the vulnerable.

As South Africans we can do more to change the circumstances of our people if all of us are committed to better the lives of poor South Africans, and not enrich ourselves at their expense.   Honourable Speaker, corruption takes away from the poor and makes them poorer.   ·         As government, we need ensure that our people have access to a decent healthcare system. ·         Our children need quality education to count, read and write. ·         Municipalities have to improve better their service delivery to communities. ·         Ensure the delivery of clean and quality water to the people. ·         Create decent and sustainable jobs.   In Mpumalanga, access to water still remains the biggest challenge. Along with this challenge, we are now facing the dangerous issue of contaminated water. Municipalities are polluting the water streams through their sewer plants that are only operating partially or not at all.   Mines are being opened across Mpumalanga – and some without water usage licenses are now polluting our rivers and dams. A recent case in point is Carolina’s water that is contaminated by mine acid.   It is also important that while we are teaching people about their rights, we must indicate their responsibilities for every right they have. Because Honourable Speaker, there is still lack of ownership of responsibility amongst the people.   Celebrating Human Rights Day every year must serve as a reminder of how far we have come to ensure that all people in South Africa enjoy the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

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