Equality, Violations of Human Rights and our Constitution – questions for the DA and COPE

Opinion by Gideon Brits

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Equality, Violations of Human Rights and our Constitution - questions for the DA and COPE
Equality, Violations of Human Rights and our Constitution - questions for the DA and COPE

Dear mr. Lekota and mr. Maimane,

The debate about land rights is about more than land, it is about what we, as South Africans, regard as an equal society.

Clearly large sections of our society feel that not enough progress has been made towards the equal society we had hoped to create in 1994. Some feel that land should be taken from white South Africans to achieve this goal. Others feel that discrimination based on race is only getting worse. That they are not afforded the human rights and protection by the law as provided for in our Constitution.

After seeing Mr.Lekota reading from the preamble to the constitution I asked myself; “Where did we, as a nation, go wrong? What happened to the ‘miracle of the new South Africa’. How did we get from that moment of triumph where Nelson Mandela wears the springbok jersey and we, as a nation, cheer him on, how did we get here?”

In 1994 we all agreed that, in the best interest of all South Africans, we would become an open and democratic constitutional state based on values like freedom, equality and human dignity.

Such a society guarantees equal rights to all regardless of race, gender, religion etc. But we had a problem, our society was not equal. The policy of apartheid had created great inequality in our nation. This had to be addressed for us to be able to move forward as a nation. We could not simply state that all citizens are now equal and we must just move forward from here.

Simply stating that every citizen would be equal from this point forward, we all agreed, black and white South Africans, would not be acceptable. This would not recognise the injustices of our past and neither seek to correct these injustices.

But how to balance the correction of injustices with our goal where all citizens would be treated equal under the law and enjoy basic human rights?

The solution was section 36 of our constitution, the limitations clause. We would literally suspend some basic human rights for some citizens of South Africa. To paraphrase George Orwell somewhat out of context; “some of us would be more equal than others”.

Section 36 states that some humans in our society could have less rights than other humans, provided that:

“… the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom …”

The equality in this clause is paramount to the issue. We hear words from you, our leaders to the effect that society is not equal and by extension that it is justifiable that some human beings in this great country may still be deprived of human rights, 25 years later.

So my question is, what is equal?

I ask it of you as one of the humans in our country who are legally deprived of some of my human rights.

At first I though the category of humans deprived of human rights are only those marked ‘white’. But this is incorrect. A black male in this country is currently also deprived to his right of equal opportunity. The label ‘male’ means has does not have the constitutional human right of equality. He suffers discrimination and a limitation of his human rights based on his gender. This is our society today.

It get’s worse. By striving for equality in terms of equal representation we look mostly at race and gender. There is no mention of the poor and disenfranchised.

Yes, by defining equality by means of race representation we will, by default, uplift some of the black poor. But what about the rest of our people, the black and white poor not connected enough to benefit from this type of equality?
What does our ‘equal society’ look like to them?

By extension, under the representation model of equality, we say, “In an equal society the same percentage of black and white, male and female, are sharing the wealth of this country. That you are poor and disenfranchised should not concern you too much, rest assured, all is equal.”

What if we pushed for a definition that states equality means equal opportunity? I think by using this approach we are now obligated, by definition and by law, to include the poor and disenfranchised in our society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.

I find it disgraceful that, in the land of Nelson Mandela, 25 years on, the following holds true,

1) That parties whose stated mission is self determination (including territorial self determination) for ‘volke’ still exist and are able to gather a significant number votes for this mission.

2) That parties with communist objectives are on the rise and gaining electoral support.

3) That parties with clear racist objectives are participating in our free and democratic elections and can gather votes on the basis of a promise to deprive other human beings of even more of their basic human rights.

4) That you sirs, in my opinion, are the best hope for achieving the goal of a free and democratic South Africa for all it’s citizens. And yet, having read through your policy documents I could find no reference to the VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS perpetrated against the citizens of this country.

Not one mention.

This is the land of Mandela and violations of human rights are accepted as the norm, we argue about the level to which we will violate human rights. Not once do we mention when this will come to an end. The pursuit of an end of human right violations does not form part of the discussion.

White South Africans agreed to this violation of their human rights for as long as it is justified. I do not think black male South Africans agreed to their rights being violated and I am not sure if that is justified.

The question of what is justified boils down to our definition of equality. I frame my questions to you from my perspective, but the answer is important to all South Africans, especially the poor and disenfranchised.

It is significant that I pose these questions to you today. Today we have a public holiday in South Africa. It is “HUMAN RIGHTS DAY”.

My questions are thus:

Mr. Lekota and Mr. Maimane,

In a constitutional democracy based on the values of human dignity, equality and freedom:

What does this society need to look like, in your opinion, before discrimination against me, based on my race, is no longer justified under section 36?

What does this society need to look like, in your opinion, before discrimination against me, based on my gender, is no longer justified under section 36?

Mr. Lekota, as a staunch constitutionalist I have directed these questions to you via your website 2 days ago.

Mr. Maimane, as the leader of the opposition I think myself, and the citizens of our country, would like to know what your views are on these questions, and also now extend these questions to you.

 

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