President Jacob Zuma lays a wreath at the tomb of the Black Consciousness leader Bantu Steve Biko at the Garden of Remembrance ahead of the National Commemoration of Human Rights Day in King William’s Town, in the Eastern Cape, yesterday. Picture: Kopano Tlape / GCIS

Durban – The families and victims of the Bulhoek and Queenstown massacres, respectively, have bemoaned Human Rights Day, saying their rights were violated by the organisers of the commemoration event in King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape on Tuesday.

Ntombozi Bidli said she escaped being shot by apartheid police in Komani, formerly Queenstown, in 1985 after taking part in a gathering which was waiting to be addressed by political activists on a number of grievances they had at the time against the apartheid regime.

Bidli said they were invited and told to assemble at the Victoria Grounds on Tuesday morning, where President Jacob Zuma was expected to give the keynote address.

However, the families were were shocked to hear that no seats had been allocated to them. “We arrived here at around 7am. It’s afternoon now. No seats, no water to drink. I am old and on treatment, but the government is treating us in this manner,” said Bidli.

Bidli’s brother Toto was shot and killed by apartheid police in Queenstown in 1985 for taking part in the same gathering.

Noncedo Mgukwa said her right to dignity was violated by the organisers of the event.

“We came here by invitation, but we were kept hungry and made to stand around looking for a place to sit,” she said.

Mgukwa’s family member was killed in the Bulhoek Massacre in 1921, where 163 people died at the hands of apartheid police while gathering at Ntabelanga, outside Komani, for a prayer meeting.

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, as well as his provincial counterpart Pemmy Majodina, recognised on stage that families and victims from both the Eastern Cape massacres were attending the commemoration.

Spokesperson for the Department of Arts and Culture in the Eastern Cape, Andile Nduna, was yet to find out what happened “with the logistics” regarding the families and victims of the massacres, at the time of publication.

Delivering his keynote address, Zuma said the government was committed to advancing fundamental human rights and the restoration of human dignity to black people in particular, who were brutalised and dehumanised by the twin systems of colonialism and apartheid.

“We are pleased with the progress we have made thus far in advancing human rights. Our country’s constitution enshrines socio-economic rights such as health, education, food, water and social security."

“We have made progress in these areas. And our children have a right to be taught in decent schools."

“The question is no longer why there are mud schools in the country, but how far the government has come in eradicating them,” said Zuma.

He also assured the crowds that the social grants will be paid to beneficiaries by April 1.

“The child support grant and older persons grant are the two largest social grant programmes, with 12 million children and 3.2 million older persons benefiting from the social grants,” the president pointed out.

“To provide further assistance, the government is seeking to amend the Social Assistance Act to among others, enable the government to provide funeral benefits to the elderly and savings’ vehicles for caregivers of children,” he added.

Meanwhile, the ANC said Human Rights Day was a celebration of the triumph of South Africa’s commitment to human dignity and universal justice against tyranny and the disregard for human life.

The ruling party said that Human Rights Day was “a struggle against forgetting, and a constant reminder” that the freedom South Africans enjoy today, once did not exist.

“This demands that we all work together to deepen and entrench a culture of human rights and among others reject any form of discrimination, including xenophobia, religious intolerance and prejudicial treatment on the basis of sexual orientation etc,” the ANC said in a statement.

“As we celebrate Human Rights Day under the theme, “the Year of OR Tambo: Unity in action in advancing human rights”, may we continue to be inspired by this great son of the soil, Steve Biko, and the inimitable Comrade Oliver Tambo to work even harder to realise our pledge to the ideal – preserving the memories of our past and determinedly working together to build our future,” it said.

The Mercury