Maverick Citizen

HUMAN RIGHTS 75 OP-ED 

It does not matter who you are or where you come from, democracy is all of our responsibility

Young people will be participating in the annual Human Rights Festival at Constitution Hill. We will be there sharing a space with people from far and wide as they gather to chart a collective way forward and strengthen people’s power. 

This year marks 75 years since the founding of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, celebrated in a global Human Rights 75 initiative that strives to strengthen a vision of a world that honours freedom, equality and justice. 

However, this comes at a time when we witness grave human rights violations everywhere. Those on our doorstep seem the most heartbreaking, particularly given the years of struggle and sacrifice by thousands of people in pursuit of a just society. 

Last week, the body of a four-year-old was found in an Eastern Cape school pit toilet. Earlier, a 27-year-old vet was stabbed to death while trying to stop criminals stealing wheels from a car during rolling blackouts. 

Universities are in turmoil over rights to tertiary education. This is our daily reality.

But this reality poses a great opportunity, a moment forcing us to assert and build a consensus on how we rise up and respond to the needs of our people. 

I have engaged many young people via the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation. Each of them emphasises the need to strengthen solidarity and build a collective voice. Each recognises we can’t solve things alone.

Recently we came together to form the National Youth Coalition, a platform to further the various causes and human rights campaigns of our organisations.

It has deepened our work to find commonality on key national issues. Its aim is to translate hope from a feeling into mass action.


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Research shows that young people are the most hopeful about the future, despite dwindling numbers of young people who vote or engage in mainstream politics. The driver for the hope is that it’s our future at stake. We bear the brunt of the government’s failure to create jobs, protect us from violence, and maintain the rule of law. 

If we do nothing we are complicit in watching flames of destruction, looting and division get stoked while we stand by. 

Young people are beginning to organise, saying: “Not in our name!” 

For example, youth activist Lerato Jiyane works at a local level promoting accountability and encouraging youth participation in democratic processes. She says: “Strengthening young people’s power to me means unleashing a future that can be lived today.

“South Africa needs light and hope. Be a human that exercises their rights to shine bright and reach greater heights.”

Mbali Skosana from Ennerdale is a young writer who says: “Human rights activism means fighting for the protection of others, it means being a voice [of] the voiceless for that young albino girl who can’t defend herself, adding hope to someone’s future.”

Milo Tselapedi from Mabopane Youth Activist Club says: “Human rights activism is advocating for the lives of others who are unfortunate enough to have their way of life threatened by either their government or their communities.” 

These three are among more than 400 people in the Kathrada Youth Activism Programme who regularly engage in discussions. On 12 March, more than 120 of them launched the Annual Anti-­Racism Week in Sharpeville. Our programme aims to teach by taking young people to centres of memory and by rolling out a civic and human rights education programme that allows youth to engage our history in contemporary ways.

This helps facilitate broader discussion on what must be done to prevent a repeat of past mistakes and what should be done to further justice, democracy and freedom. 

This is why we, the young people, will be at the Human Rights Festival. It doesn’t matter where you come from, building and seizing power for the people, by the people, is a responsibility we all carry if we want this democracy to work for us. DM168

Irfaan Mangera is youth activism programme manager at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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