Human Rights Day: Our Journey is Only Partly Done

Human Rights Day is an opportunity to do two things as a nation.

Firstly, it is a time to honour and acknowledge those who, in the words of the Constitution, “suffered for justice and freedom in our land.”

Our democracy was not easily attained, and we should not forget those who made it possible for us to live in political freedom and equality today. Let us celebrate them and remember them.

It is also an opportunity to test the present, to ask whether we have met the hopes of those who struggled against apartheid, and of those who drafted the Constitution’s aspirations. These aspirations include to “ Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights” and to “ Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person.”

We have only completed part of this journey and much remains to be done.

We remain a society where many feel alienated, with high levels of mistrust and, too often, a lack of cohesion. There are distressing, violent ways in which this shows itself, such as our chronically high levels of gender-based violence, and such as the riots and looting of July 2021.

Our low investment rate reflects, too, an inability to achieve consensus and a long-term share vision of the South African economy.

And our very high unemployment rate, 32.9% for men and 37.3% for women, is incompatible with freeing the potential of each person.

We need growth and investment to recover, and need a renewed, decisive focus on inclusion, and especially the economic inclusion of women and youth, who have been disproportionately affected by the last two years.

Support for the social economy, enhanced mentorship both in the public and private sector, job creation for youth, more women in private sector leadership and management, and steps to promote equitable access to the digital economy: all these will contribute to a more inclusive recovery, which in turn will make it a recovery which can gather momentum and accelerate.

As we return to a degree of post-COVID normality, we must prioritise reversing the losses the most vulnerable have suffered.

Committing to this, nationally as well as in our communities, is the surest way to remain true to the history we celebrate today, and the surest way to take that legacy forward.