Maverick Citizen

TUESDAY EDITORIAL

Enlist today: Why SA’s human rights movement needs you now

Enlist today: Why SA’s human rights movement needs you now
(Image: MietAFRICA / Facebook)

If we want to live in a society based on human rights, compassion, love, peace, respect and care we are all going to have to start actively working for it. Nobody else is going to do it for you.

Dear fellow human,

Let me start with a question: if you live in South Africa’s great melting pot of Gauteng what are you doing this weekend? I’m asking because on March 25 and 26th Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, will be holding the annual human rights festival. It’s theme is#SeizethePower. #SeizeYourPower. 

I’m asking you to attend, please. And to ask your friends and family to come with you.

You won’t be disappointed. A dedicated team of organisers are creating a space for debate and learning; a safe space to engage each other in difficult conversations; there will be skills building, exhibitions, poetry, music and a book fair. Two lunchtime “town hall meetings” – held on the square outside the Constitutional Court – will debate the 2024 elections (Make 2024 our 1994: How should we show up in the next general election?) and what we need to do to survive the climate crisis. Both will also be livescreened.

On Sunday morning at 8am there will be a peaceful people’s protest walk through our inner city to demonstrate our unity, diversity and compassion. 

You can read more about the festival and see the programme here: Human Rights Festival, 2023 (be patient! We may need another 24 hours to get the final programme loaded – but it’s coming!) 

Why bother?

‘But why bother?’ I can hear you think to yourself.

Let me try to persuade you.

Human rights have always been important, but at the moment they are more important than ever because human rights are under threat in South Africa and across the globe. From China to Zimbabwe, from London to Los Angeles, from Mumbai to Madrid people are under attack. Putin, Xi Jinping, Trump, Bolsonaro, Johnson, Modi, Musk (to name a few) and their motley but well-armed crews of mostly men are attacking human rights. It’s 2023 and political prisoners are back in fashion, environmental activists are being assassinated, journalists are behind bars. 

Hunger, disease and climate crisis-linked disaster are on the march.

How did it get this bad?

It took human society a long time to arrive at the idea that all humans have fundamental rights that the state must protect and advance. A turning point came sometime in the late 18th century when the French republic proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. After that, for two centuries or more, people across the world fought hard for human rights for women, black people, children, people with disabilities, the LGBTQI+ community, people with HIV… 

And most of the time they won.


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This year is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By the end of the 20th century the acceptance of human rights seemed to have flourished. After the experience of colonialism, apartheid, dictatorships and world wars, many Constitutions, including our own, made human rights the centrepiece of law and government. 

In the Preamble to the SA Constitution “we, the people” promised to:

  • Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
  • Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
  • Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
  • Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? 

Yet, strangely enough, many ordinary people still feel iffy and even suspicious about human rights and human rights activists. Why would that be? The idea of human rights is simple: it simply means that each one of us has the same right to dignity, opportunity, to be treated fairly, to express ourselves and associate with people we like, to peace and security. And that the state and whichever government we elect – that is if we have that right! – must protect these rights.

Who can argue with that? 

But now, we face a new dark age, an era where governments and elites want to take away people’s rights. Economic instability, the climate crisis, war, pandemics – are all creating a perfect storm that has within it the need to take away rights. 

We have seen what hate, repression and war look like. Do you want that?

Good people need to regroup 

That’s why, as the late Bob Marley and Peter Tosh sang, we all need to “Get Up, Stand up for your rights”. The human rights movement can’t be made up of other people, it needs to be made up of all of us.

Bob Marley singing Get Up, Stand Up For Your Rights.
(Image: Facebook)

Ask yourself this question: would you rather live in a society that respects human rights or one that doesn’t. Yes or No? If the answer is yes, then seize your power; come to the human rights festival and let’s start working together again.  DM/MC

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