The State of Human Rights in SA

Wednesday, 28 May, 2008 - 10:12

By Butjwana SeokomaThe South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has launched a report which measures the progress made by South Africa in translating human rights into reality.

By Butjwana Seokoma

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has launched a report which measures the progress made by South Africa in translating human rights into reality. The Human Rights Development Report (HRDR) contributes to the dialogue that engages South Africa on human rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Speaking during the launch of the report in Johannesburg on 22 May 2008, SAHRC Chief Executive Officer, Tseliso Thipanyane, noted that the HRDR, which outlines South Africa’s progress in relation to race, gender and disability for the year 2007, “should help South Africa to monitor and assess human rights in our country.”

The SAHRC point out that the recent violent attacks on non-nationals pose a serious threat to the country’s democracy. Jody Kollapen, SAHRC Chairperson, explains that that SA failed to deal with the race issue in a fundamental way, when it became democratic in 1994.

The SAHRC has also criticised the media for not reporting on the various contributions that non-nationals are making to the development of the country. Kollapen believes that this can help to change the public’s perceptions and stereotypes about other Africans.

Thipanyane said that the shift in politics after the African National Congress Conference in Polokwane created space for Chapter 9 institutions and civil society organisations to further debate human rights issues. He argued that the culture of intolerance within political parties is causing problems in the advancement of human rights.

The SAHRC hopes to give perspective on key development issues as dictated by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In light of this, Kollapen noted that the report’s primary aim is to look into how South Africa translates human rights into reality.

The HRDR examines the country’s dual economy, and concludes that poverty violates people’s right to human dignity. SAHRC’s Acting Head of Research, Documentation and Policy Analysis Programme, Cameron Lee Jacobs, asserts that the increasing gap between the rich and the poor is because government poverty eradication programmes do not have a real “destination”.

The report recommends that government should engage in discussion on the real nature of poverty and also review progress made thus far in reducing poverty. According to Kollapen, who argues that the debate around poverty has been very limited, South Africans live in a country with abundance of wealth yet with increasing poverty. He concludes that despite the positive gains made by SA after 1994, there are still huge pockets of poverty and suffering.

South Africa is often criticised for not doing enough to effectively tackle racism and gender imbalances. Reiterating this view, Cameron stressed that gender-based violence is on the increase in country. Highlighting the seriousness of gender-based violence, Kollapen cited the recent murder of Banyana Banyana player, Eudy Simelane, in Ekurhuleni for being lesbian.

The report argues that the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) faces serious implementation impediments in the South African public sector. The SAHRC says despite its formal entrenchment, practical delivery in terms of PAIA is slowed down by a number of complex factors.

The SAHRC states that the report is aimed at contributing to the promotion of debate in order to strengthen SA’s democracy. In order to achieve this, Thipanyane envisages developing a comprehensive report on the state of human rights in the country. He says report should compete with reports produced by international NGOs such as the Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch.

- Butjwana Seokoma, Information Services Coordinator, SANGONeT.

- SAHRC, Human Rights Development Report, 2008.
- Picture courtesy of

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