Paying heed to human rights is government’s first priority

James Masango MPL

Provincial Chief Whip of the Official Opposition

Note: The following speech was delivered to the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature, during the Snap Debate on Human Rights Day.

Honourable Speaker, 23 years ago on February 11, 1990, former president Nelson Mandela was released from prison – and millions of South Africans and billions of people across world watched as our country entered a new age. We celebrated the first fully democratic elections in 1994 as well as the birth of a new Constitution, one which was hailed as the most inclusive and protective of the rights of the people.

Yet, honourable Speaker, it is a shame that 17 years after our Constitution was adopted, we see an ANC government (the same ANC who claims to serve the people) violate the human and constitutional rights of South Africans almost every day. The Bill of Rights enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom, which the state must respect, protect and promote. Among these rights, are those that protect human dignity, and guarantees access to basic education, quality health care, adequate housing, clean water, and an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being. How can the ANC government claim it upholds the right to access to basic education when learners are forced to learn in schools with dilapidated classrooms, such as at the Uthaka Secondary School in the Pixley ka Isaka Seme local municipality and many more across Mpumalanga? Why are learners forced to suffer the indignity of having to relieve themselves in the bushes, as there are no functioning toilets? Where are human rights when children of different grades are packed into one classroom because of shortages of classrooms and furniture? Where are the human rights when ECD children of the Siphumele School are forced to sit on the floor of a corrugated iron classroom in hot weather conditions? The state is supposed to provide all people with access to quality health care, but instead it exposes people to the risk of being infected with TB, as patients are not kept and treated separately. Clinics and hospitals are without medicines for HIV positive patients, that is if there is a doctor to see them in the first place. How do we uphold peoples’ dignity, when they have to be treated by rude and overworked health professionals in dirty and smelly treatment rooms because there is no water?

Honourable Speaker the Mpumalanga government has failed in its mandate to provide adequate housing. From 1999 to 2004 it managed to provide 1 575 houses, but in the in eight years following that, it only provided 1249. Why are less houses being built when more and more money is budgeted for housing every year? And when houses are completed, the workmanship is so shoddy that doors and windows do not properly open or close, they do not have water, nor are they connected to sewerage networks – that is not what a reasonable person would call adequate. Where is the dignity in having a toilet in your house when you cannot use it? Service delivery remains a challenge, with the primary culprit being the local municipality’s inability to manage and maintain its infrastructure. Sewage leaks are a common sight in our communities, exposing our children to an environment that is harmful to their health and well-being. How long will this be allowed to go on before we see a massive outbreak of cholera or diarrhoea?

Honourable Speaker, while Human Rights Day is a day where we reflect on our terrible past and the injustices many have had to suffer, we have to remember the people of Mpumalanga, who after almost two decades of democracy still have to suffer the neglect of government.

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