There is no dignity for the 10 million unemployed South Africans
Note to Editors: the following remarks were delivered today by Democratic Alliance (DA) Leader, Mmusi Maimane, at the party's Human Rights Day event in Bekkersdal, Gauteng.
Fellow South Africans
On this day 59 years ago, 69 people lost their lives and hundreds more were injured in Sharpeville as they protested the Apartheid government’s pass laws and the carrying of pass books. Many of them were shot in the back that day as they fled from police.
But these people were protesting far more than just the carrying of a book. They were standing up to a system that categorised them as sub-human – a system that told them where they could live, where they could work and what kind of job they could do.
They were demanding the right to live freely and equally in the land of their birth – their right to the same treatment, the same dignity and the same opportunities as others. They were protesting for their right to proudly be who they were; the right to self-identify.
We remember the victims of Sharpeville on this day because their sacrifice, along with the sacrifices of many others throughout our history, helped deliver the free and democratic South Africa of today. They died for our freedom, they died for our Constitution and they died for our Bill of Rights. We celebrate Human Rights Day because we must never forget the heavy price that was paid for these things.
One of the most important rights contained in the Bill of Rights is the right to freedom of trade, occupation and profession. In other words, the right to work. And closely related to this is the right to human dignity.
These two rights are interlinked because without sustainable work you cannot experience real dignity. Without a job you become reliant on the State’s grants, or on remittances from family members. Without a job you live at the mercy of others, and that is not real freedom.
The United Nations speaks of the right to an existence worthy of human dignity. And that is what the victims of Sharpeville died for – the right to live a life of dignity and of value.
Sharpeville in the 1960’s was not a place of dreams and enterprise. It was not a place where children grew up with endless possibilities for the future. It was, like so many other communities in South Africa, little more than a labour-sending area. Dreams are things that happened elsewhere.
The struggle for liberation and our transition to a democracy was meant to change all of that. The hard-fought political freedom of our people was meant to be followed by economic freedom. But 25 years into our democracy, this is yet to happen.
Sharpeville today is still a dormitory of unemployed labour. It is still a place where people struggle every day to make ends meet and put food on the table for their families. It is still a place where people are not yet free. And there are hundreds of other places just like Sharpeville all across South Africa, where people are still desperately waiting for their freedom.
Almost four out of ten South Africans cannot find work. Four out of ten homes in our country do not have a single job and rely solely on social grants and remittances to sustain the whole household. These people were promised all the rights contained in our Constitution, and yet they live like outsiders in their own country.
They have to watch as those with the right connections, those with the right education, those with wealth and access to capital progress in life, while they fall further and further behind. They have to watch their children grow up in our new, democratic South Africa with little more to look forward to than they themselves had all those years ago.
This is why the struggle is not yet won. The pass laws may have been beaten, but there are new causes for which we must march and for which we must fight.
Today’s march is against the crippling poverty that affects half our population.
Today’s march is against the failed education offered in thousands of schools across the country.
Today’s march is against the inhumane pit toilets that continue to claim the lives of our children.
Today’s march is against Marikana and Esidimeni, and every other callous act of government against its people.
Today’s march is against the record unemployment that continues to rob millions of their freedom and of their dignity.
Our Bill of Rights hasn’t changed since it was drawn up. It still guarantees South Africans the right to work and the right to dignity. We dare not lose sight of this. The rights of our people cannot only live in documents like our Constitution. They must exist here, in the real world. They must be experienced by all South Africans.
And they cannot only be something we reflect on in the past. When we talk about human rights on a day like this, it must be a forward-looking conversation. What is the future of human rights in South Africa? What should this mean for our children, and their children? How do we ensure that the next generation enjoys every right described in our Constitution?
We do so by giving them an education that actually means something to them when they step out into the world of work.
We do so by monitoring and mitigating against climate change, so that they inherit a world worth living in.
We do so by protecting their right to own property, as is currently enshrined in Section 25 of our Constitution.
And we do so by protecting all the rights of all South Africans, and not just certain rights for certain groups. These human rights are universal. And they are not like slices of a pie – extending a right to one does not take it away from another. If you sacrifice the rights of one group, you are in effect sacrificing the rights of all.
Let us fight for these rights for everyone. Let us fight to put a job in every home, and transform communities like Sharpeville into places of hope and opportunity. Let us give people the freedom to choose their own future.
Let us build one South Africa that works for all its people.
Statement issued by Mmusi Maimane, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 21 March 2019