NEWS & ANALYSIS

Request for liaison mechanism for minorities - Afrikanerbond

Organisation says there are many international examples from which South Africa can take best practices

South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity” – Consideration by the President of a special mechanism for liaising with and monitoring South African cultural, religious, and linguistic communities

19 May 2019  

The letter below was sent to the office of the President on May 13, 2019. In the letter the Afrikanerbond requested the President:

1)    To give serious consideration to the establishment of a liaison mechanism for minorities and South African language, cultural, and religious communities to promote, evaluate, and monitor the concerns and specific needs of these groups in the different government departments, provinces, and constitutional institutions. In this regard, we propose one or more of the following: 

a.   A permanent ministry of South African minorities/communities

b.   An ombudsman for South African minorities/communities

c.    A special office for South African minorities/communities in the presidency 

There are many international examples of special mechanisms, within Europe as well as the Ministry of Minority Affairs in India, from which South Africa can take best practices.

2)    We need the political will to endorse internationally recognised minority rights in South Africa. This can be done in the form of a charter of minority rights as an addition to the Constitution. Such a charter must be based on international conventions and declarations on minority rights. It must not only include the rights of minorities or communities, but must also set out the obligations of the state and government towards minorities. In this regard, you could initiate the process as part of the proposal for a liaison mechanism.

The background to the request is given in the letter below:

Letter to The President

Mr Cyril Ramaphosa

We, the people of South Africa”, as declared in the 1996 Constitution of South Africa, “Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity”. It is a lofty ideal, but it is tragically not a true reflection of South African society. The South African Constitution is the foundation of our national unity, but – paradoxically – that unity is meant to be based on the recognition of our diversity.

The preamble does not elaborate on the nature of this diversity, but in other sections of the Constitution, recognition is specifically given to cultural, religious, and linguistic communities (sections 29, 30, 31, 185, and 235). It is significant that the Constitution recognises that South African society includes a variety of cultural, religious, and linguistic communities. South Africa is, therefore, a country of minorities, and relations with them should be treated with the greatest care and sensitivity, since continued intercommunity peace and harmony are fundamental requirements for the future success of our society.

Although no firm statistics exist, estimates suggest that 10% to 20% of the world’s population belong to minorities. This means that between 600 million and 1,2 billion people are in need of special measures for the protection of their rights, given that minorities are often among the most disadvantaged groups in society, their members often being subject to discrimination, injustice and exclusion from meaningful participation in public and political life (according to the United Nations website on minorities).

It is worth noting that the South African Constitution does not refer to the internationally recognised concept of minorities, but rather to communities. Yet the three types of communities that are defined in the Constitution, namely, cultural, religious, and linguistic communities, are also the three international criteria (culture, religion, and language) that define ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities. However, this is where South Africa differs from international standards and norms.

The promotion and protection of minority rights are not on the agenda of the bigger political parties. It is too often the case that the bigger parties pay lip service to, among others, language rights, but do not actively promote and canvass for these rights. It is for this reason that government is, for example, not even attempting to promote all 11 official languages.

It is because of the lack of any tangible action by the larger parties that we saw the recent results of the general election and the increase in votes for parties that promote particular interests. In this regard, the growth of the Freedom Front Plus, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the African Christian Democratic Party, and Al Jama-ah must be mentioned. From this, the deduction can be made that minorities are reverting to political parties to promote their particular interests, as these have been sadly neglected due to the non-functioning of the South African Human Rights Commission, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities, and the Pan South African Language Board. I also refer to our letter of 13 December 2018, to which we have not yet received a response, in which we expressed our concern about the non-functioning of these constitutional bodies.

A healthy balance is necessary between the own interests of linguistic, cultural, and minority groups, on the one hand, and the national interest, on the other, which applies to all South Africans. To focus solely on the national interest is also wrong and does not serve the multitude of South Africa’s people. Various minorities and communities have committed themselves to working towards the future of a successful South Africa. Therefore, the many minorities and communities that constitute and are evidence of the diversity of South Africa cannot be ignored. Denying or ignoring minorities is not in South Africa’s best interests.

South Africa has a long history of racial division, conflict, and repression. In concluding your speech at the centenary celebration of the Afrikanerbond in Paarl on 7 June 2018, you said: “Let us seek peace together in this torn, tragic, divided South Africa.”

With regard to the identification of good practices in relation to minorities and political participation, we are of the opinion that the South African government does not follow good practices when it comes to minorities and their participation in the politics of our country. The government’s unofficial position in the name of “transformation” and “non-racialism” is that minorities must be fused or assimilated by the majority. Such a position does not create space for minority participation and is against international good practice in this regard. 

While our Constitution includes adequate provision for the protection of every citizen’s right to language, culture, and education, the problem is that these provisions have not been properly implemented. Greater attention should be given to provide cultural, religious, and linguistic communities with a meaningful institutional voice on issues that affect them.

Over the past few years, the three bodies referred to earlier have clearly shown that they do not fulfil their constitutional duties. The Bill of Rights is not applied, and these institutions have disappointed South Africa in their role as guardians and custodians of the Bill of Rights and the protection of the different communities and various minorities in South Africa.

A proposal for a lasting solution

1)      In the interests of our Constitution, reconciliation, and your ideal that we “seek peace together in this torn, tragic, divided South Africa”, the drastic and urgent initiation of a process to review the mandate and activities of the three institutions is necessary.

2)      We urge you to give serious consideration to the establishment of a liaison mechanism for minorities and South African language, cultural, and religious communities to promote, evaluate, and monitor the concerns and specific needs of these groups in the different government departments, provinces, and constitutional institutions. In this regard, we propose one or more of the following: 

a.   A permanent ministry of South African minorities/communities

b.   An ombudsman for South African minorities/communities

c.    A special office for South African minorities/communities in the presidency 

There are many international examples of special mechanisms, within Europe as well as the Ministry of Minority Affairs in India, from which South Africa can take best practices.

3)      We need the political will to endorse internationally recognised minority rights in South Africa. This can be done in the form of a charter of minority rights as an addition to the Constitution. Such a charter must be based on international conventions and declarations on minority rights. It must not only include the rights of minorities or communities, but must also set out the obligations of the state and government towards minorities. In this regard, you could initiate the process as part of the proposal for a liaison mechanism.

A new understanding is required of what the preamble means when it says that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity”. We cannot make any progress in unifying South Africa when our diversity is not simultaneously acknowledged, celebrated, promoted, and respected.

We would be happy to be of assistance to further elucidate this point of view if you should find this necessary.

Issued by Jan Bosman, Chief Secretary, Die Afrikanerbond, 19 May 2019