How government is violating rights

South Africa has been accused of failing to address human rights issues at home. File Picture: Jack Guez/ AFP

South Africa has been accused of failing to address human rights issues at home. File Picture: Jack Guez/ AFP

Published Jan 23, 2024


By Noluthando Radebe

In December, the South African government approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with an application for Israel’s military assault on Gaza to be declared a genocide. South Africa accused Israel of subjecting Palestinians to genocidal acts at the opening of hearings at the top United Nations court on a case the country brought against the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

While it could take years for the panel of judges to rule on the genocide accusation, South Africa has asked the judges to issue a restraining order of sorts in the coming weeks that could, among other things, call on Israel to halt its effort to root out Hamas and bring home the remaining hostages, at least until a verdict is reached. One cannot deny the urgent humanitarian necessity to cease the violence in Gaza. However, in this piece, I present to you an opinion that deters from the politics of Israel and Palestine but one that seeks to call for introspection on South Africa’s own record with human rights violations, and there is no better place to start than one’s backyard; after all, charity does begin at home.

South Africa’s involvement in the Israel-Gaza war occurs when South Africa, the world’s most unequal society, enters a general election year and its political parties kick into higher gear with electioneering. During this time, the impoverished masses who live under abject poverty will once again be sold never-ending dreams, continue to suffer, and are often fed the ever-consistent diet of political lies and empty promises ahead of the polls. This is the nightmare of South Africans from 1994 to date; surely there’s no more opportune moment to have a frank conversation about the nightmare South Africans are subjected to domestically at the hands of a government that is being hailed globally as crusaders of humanitarianism and morality.

The immediate responsibility of the state is the well-being of its people. South Africa is a constitutional democracy under the rule of law, and the ANC tends to overlook this really when it suits the party. The state is obliged to protect, promote, and fulfil all rights under the Bill of Rights. South Africa has been referred to by many as a failed state due to its consistent and dismal failure to execute this basic requirement. It is therefore disingenuous and hypocritical for South Africa to bring this action while not addressing basic issues domestically.

Chapter 2 of the South African Constitution enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality, and freedom”. Section 10 focuses on human dignity. It specifically states that “everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected”. A failure to provide services to the citizens neither respects nor protects the dignity of those people. As such, the Constitution is contravened.

The government and the ANC continuously violate the Constitution’s non-derogable rights. These are rights that are absolute, rights that should never be subject to any derogation, even in times of war or emergency. These rights are equality as espoused in Section 9; human dignity as espoused in Section 10; the right to life in Section 11; freedom and security of the person in Section 12; Section 13 on slavery, servitude, and forced labour; Section 28 on children; and Section 35 on arrested, detained, and accused persons.

South Africa is an absolute cesspool of decay, and it is a great pity that the South African government has consistently ignored gross human rights violations at its doorstep. The country is marred by millions of people living in abject poverty without food, water, or shelter. A clear contravention of the Bill of Rights as enshrined in the Constitution.

On the other hand, it is the same ANC leaders driving fancy cars and living lavish lifestyles with access to power backup, private security, education, and healthcare. The ANC has shown time and time again that it is resolute in pursuing its agenda of corruption, theft, and incompetence, depriving citizens of employment opportunities, safety, electricity, transport, education, healthcare, and even, in some places, water. The depravity of our leadership knows no bounds. Considering the realities of our own country, I wonder if people in glass houses should perhaps not throw stones.

Double Standards: Is it about Human Rights?

There have been claims that the ANC is trying to enforce the rules that the international order set up through the Genocide Convention. However, a question remains: why did the ANC coddle and protect the former president of Sudan's Omar Al-Bashir and refuse to act on the arrest warrant issued to him for genocide?

Considering this, the Supreme Court of Appeal labelled South Africa’s protection of Al-Bashir as “disgraceful conduct” and “unlawful”. Similarly, in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the ANC openly maintained a pro-Russia posture.

The point made here suggests that if human rights were the driving force behind the government’s action or inaction in this case, South Africa would by this time have lobbied for treason charges against former Sierra Leone president Ernest Bai Koroma to be dropped. Moreover, the South African government has blatantly turned a blind eye to African issues in states such as Sudan. As a regional power, the question remains: why has the ANC government dragged its feet to bring cases to the ICJ over genocide in Sudan and Ethiopia’s Tigray, both much closer to home?

If the ANC had condemned Russia and taken up African interests, then I think they would have the moral high ground to condemn Israel, but this is questionable. Moreover, their moral compass is flawed in that the same condemnation is not applied in the cases of Russia and Ukraine.

The question remains: What then is the real motive? Some of this may be motivated by tactical considerations, a distraction from all the things the ANC is clearly doing wrong, and the desire to shift focus from dire domestic human rights issues to those outside as an election catastrophe looms. A desperate clutch at straws to sway and appease the dejected sections of society and reclaim the Mandela-era of human rights heroism.

South Africa is in a permanent state of Human Rights violations

The South African government is guilty of perpetrating its version of human rights violations, mainly against the poor and disempowered in South Africa. The ANC is guilty of human rights violations, and that is only the tip of the iceberg, in a failed state where the entire fiscus has been stolen, together with the hopes and dreams of many citizens whom the ANC swore to protect. The ANC-led government itself is in breach of international obligations because of its failure to put in place adequate independent anti-corruption machinery. It is also in breach of human rights obligations because of its failure to comply with a related judgment from the highest court in the land, as well as its failure to deliver services.

The hypocrisy, political posturing, and selective moralisation, by the ANC government must be called out even when the country takes on the noble task of freeing the people in Gaza. Particularly as the government continues to be complacent and arrogant as it tramples on the human rights of its citizens while being hailed as heroes afar of. The government has the responsibility to protect human rights. By virtue of being the governing party at the national level, the ANC has to take the lead. Failure to do so amounts to a violation of human rights. The legal fraternity itself has demonstrated that it can challenge our government on humanitarian issues but also continues to be complacent in this regard.

*Radebe is Chief Albert Luthuli Research chairperson at Unisa

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL