Home Opinion and Features Human rights for all

Human rights for all


The road to the election had been paved with the most grotesque and inhumane violations of human rights.

Nelson Mandela. File photo: Denis Farrell

Former president Nelson Mandela, delivering an address during his investiture as Doctor of Laws at Soochow University in Taiwan in 1993, spoke about what human rights meant to him.

“Democracy and human rights are inseparable. We cannot have the one without the other. It is not an easy road that our country is going to travel.

“The end of apartheid will not guarantee the beginning of democracy.

“But until apartheid is totally destroyed, there can be no democracy.”

The context of Mandela’s speech is crucial to understand what was going through the global icon’s mind when he penned and delivered this speech.

South Africa had emerged after numerous atrocities and was on the verge of its first democratic election that would allow black citizens to vote for the first time in their lives.

The road to the election had been paved with the most grotesque and inhumane violations of human rights.

Detention without trial, the shooting of unarmed protesters by the apartheid regime’s bloodthirsty enforcers, and racial discrimination that extended to where one could sit, swim or eat had been par for the course.

Democracy was meant to be the end of these practices that violated the human rights of the majority of the people.

Dignity was meant to be restored and, on the back of this, millions would be able to create a better life for themselves and future generations.

This was the theory, but we have seen that more than 20 years into democracy, human rights violations continue to dog the country and continue to strip away the dignity of those who are guaranteed protection by the constitution.

The Life Esidimeni tragedy has revealed that the most vulnerable in society are also the most at risk of having their dignity assaulted.

The hearings were held after about 144 severely mentally ill patients died after being moved into ill-equipped and under-funded NGOs.

Some were transported on the back of trucks like cattle, and some appeared to have starved to death. At least 45 patients remain unaccounted for in one of the greatest human rights debacles in post-apartheid South Africa.

The conduct of the Gauteng Department of Health officials, led by Qedani Mahlangu, the former Gauteng MEC for health, was instrumental in the fate of those who were removed from a safe care facility to NGOs that could not care for them.

Yet the families of those who lost their lives have had to suffer further pain because no one is willing to accept blame for the tragedy.

Human rights violations take place in the country every day. From racism to the sexual exploitation of children, newspaper pages are riddled with atrocities committed against those who have had their rights violated.

While the government has a role to play, all South Africans need to look at the role they can play in ensuring that the dignity afforded by human rights, is a dignity that is afforded to all citizens.