Maverick Citizen


Seize the Power! Activists speak up on the importance of attending SA’s Human Rights Festival

Seize the Power! Activists speak up on the importance of attending SA’s Human Rights Festival
Seize the Power! Activists speak up on the importance of attending the human rights festival. (Photo: iStock)

From March 24-26, South Africa’s only annual Human Rights Festival will take place at the historic Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. This year, the festival’s theme is, ‘Seize the Power!’

The annual human rights festival at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg will offer a combination of fun and learning, deep reflection and debate, activism, skills-building and listening. 

It will include films, exhibitions, poetry, a book fair and market, as well as two big Town Hall-style debates on crucial issues facing South Africa: preparing for the 2024 elections, and how to survive the climate crisis and the changes we must make to do so.

Children and young people are especially welcome.

Migrants, differently abled people, the LGBTQI community, the homeless and all marginalised groups are welcome.

You are welcome!

Reflecting a new spirit of collaboration, a diverse group of organisations and individuals have been putting together an exciting and relevant programme. Several of them spoke with Maverick Citizen about why human rights matter so much at this moment, and why joining the festival is an opportunity too good to miss.

Marcus van Wyk, National General Secretary, YMCA South Africa: 

Marcus van Wyk, National General Secretary, YMCA South Africa. (Photo: Supplied)

“The YMCA South Africa supports and endorses the Festival. We encourage young and old to attend and engage the multiple organisations and individuals who will be exhibiting. The YMCA’s sole purpose is to ensure that young people and communities are empowered to build a just, sustainable, equitable and inclusive world. We are intentional about creating safe spaces and amplifying young people’s voices to address and advocate for human rights issues. We are guided by the following pillars: community wellbeing, meaningful work, sustainable planet and a just world…”

Faeeza Lok, Rise Mzansi, a new community-based political movement

human rights Lok

Faeeza Lok, Rise Mzansi. (Photo: Mark Heywood)

This year’s Human Rights Festival is one you should not miss! 

“Seize the Power” – an impactful theme because it not only promotes activism and encourages individuals to become agents of change. It also highlights the importance of taking action and advocating for human rights, rather than simply being a bystander. 

This festival can be especially important in South Africa where human rights violations are rampant and everyday South Africans feel helpless or marginalised. 

“Seize the Power” emphasises the importance of working together to effect change. It fosters a sense of empowerment and encourages our brother and sister organisations to collaborate and pool their resources in order to achieve common goals. 

When we highlight the need to “Seize the power”, it can be a powerful tool for educating people about human rights violations and inspiring them to take action! This is what this perilous time demands of us. We need to take action and stand in solidarity and protection towards the most vulnerable because we are all intrinsically linked with each other. 

When our brothers’ and sisters’ communities are not well, South Africa is not well. 

2024 is our 1994” is the title of the Town Hall debate at the festival on 25 March. Next year is an opportunity for a significant shift in the country, similar to the change that occurred in 1994 when South Africa transitioned from apartheid to a democratic society. 

The festival is an opportunity to enable our power. Let’s work together to reimagine and create a better future.

Nhlanhla Sibisi, climate and energy campaigner, Greenpeace Africa

human rights sibisi

Nhlanhla Sibisi, Greenpeace Africa. (Photo: Mark Heywood)

Making the connection between human rights and a harmonious healthy planet is possible when we understand the impacts of climate change and the ways in which those impacts affect us, our families and the communities of the future.

So many of our human rights, such as the right to life, health, food, and an adequate standard of living, are adversely affected by climate change.

Climate change poses a major threat to physical health and survival. It results in food and water shortages and the loss of property and ways of life. The most vulnerable in our society – including children, the elderly and marginalised communities – are often most at risk.

We see this with each new extreme weather event and the devastation that is caused to lives, crops and property. Without action, climate change will continue to devastate people and the planet, and human rights will continue to be violated.

Join the Town Hall at the festival on Sunday 26 March on “How to survive the climate crisis.”

Nthabi Fuyani, founding director of Skilful Spaces

human rights fuyani

Nthabi Fuyani, Skilful Spaces. (Photo: Mark Heywood)

Education occurs both inside and outside the classroom. When I founded Skilful Spaces, I believed that children have a right to safe environments where their education includes the development of their skills. This will enable them to become active citizens of the country and support the development of a nation that is both economically and socially stable. 

We concur that adults should provide children with the tools and opportunities they need to lead today, instead of simply expecting them to be the leaders of tomorrow. 

In order to prevent the creation of a destructive and violent society, we would like to see the festival serve as a catalyst for government, activists and civil society organisations to actively involve children in the formation of policy through active training.

Nigel Branken, Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia (Kaax) coordinator: 

human rights branken

Nigel Branken, Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia (Kaax). (Photo: Mark Heywood)

Xenophobia undermines our humanity and diminishes our collective potential. Kaax is committed to standing with those who have been targeted by this hate, to building solidarity across communities, and working towards a more just and equitable society for all. 

At the Human Rights Festival, we have the opportunity to come together in our diversity to build our skills network and thereby build our capacity to fight for justice. By building awareness and solidarity, we can create a more just and equitable society for all.

Joining us at the festival is crucial to helping build people’s power and regain our democracy. South Africa (and the world) is at risk of losing many of the fundamental rights gained through years of struggle against colonialism and apartheid. Over the last decades we have seen the neoliberal alliance of government and business corroding our ability to build the society we dream of.

They have worked together to act in their interests while excluding the interests of ordinary people. The environment, our electricity supply, the maintenance of our infrastructure, the ability of the state to provide social care, are all at risk. 

Additionally we have seen the rise of “othering”, with issues such as xenophobia, racism, homophobia and sexism prevalent in society. 

Attending the festival will give people the chance to learn more about these issues and how to get involved in local and national advocacy efforts. 

By supporting organisations like Kaax and Neighbours NPO and attending the Human Rights Festival, we have the opportunity to make a real difference in our community and work towards a more just and equitable world.

Atilla Dag, Director-General, Universal Rights Association (URA)     

human rights daag

Attila Dag, Universal Rights Association. (Photo: Mark Heywood)

The Universal Rights Association is a civil society organisation dedicated to promote and protect peace, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and sustainable development prescribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Non-violence is the only way that we operate to remove, repair and resolve injustice, inequality, ill-treatment and oppression. 

We are going through such times in which people are suffering a lot because those who hold the power think of themselves as being more important than anyone or anything. They believe in the right of the power, not the power of the right. And that idea makes them abuse the rights of others who are not as powerful as them. 

Defending human rights becomes vital for those who are being crushed under these powerful figures. Human rights activists are generous people who work tirelessly not only for themselves, but for the betterment of the rest of the society that they live in. 

The Annual Human Rights Festival is the most important event for human rights activists and human rights organisations to engage with other organisations and the society they live in, and also give them the opportunity to exchange ideas and mobilise with the people and join their voices and power to become the voice of the voiceless and power of the powerless. 

Omhle Ntshingila, Right2Protest, acting project coordinator 

human rights Ntshingila

Omhle Ntshingila, Right to Protest. (Photo: Mark Heywood)

The right to protest has been essential to accessing other constitutional rights in our current democratic dispensation. However, the lack of respect for human rights threatens the constitutional rights of all and impedes the progress of tangible change, especially for communities living on the margins. 

Amidst growing wealth gaps, violence and neglect by the state, our country is still healing from systemic racial oppression. Therefore, defending human rights is an integral part to helping society navigate through sociopolitical tensions and accessing justice equitably. 

The festival is a reminder to society that this can be achieved through our collective power. 

We, the people, are our only hope and our Constitution gives us the power to act against systemic challenges that seek to threaten our livelihoods and our democracy. DM/MC

For more information write to: [email protected] or visit the website at


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