JOHANNESBURG – Human rights in South Africa are a mixed bag with enormous challenges and difficulties, but also positive developments and obstacles that have been overcome, and hope, according to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) which is holding a two-day seminar "Business and Human Rights Dialogue" in Johannesburg this week.
“South Africa has very good infrastructure in terms of laws, policies and institutions,” Advocate Tseliso Thipanyane, SAHRC CEO told the African News Agency (ANA) during an interview on the sidelines of the seminar at the Capital Moloko Hotel in Sandton on Tuesday.
“However, implementation thereof, despite positive developments, remains problematic,” added Thipanyane.
“Furthermore, there are several concerns facing human rights in the country and these include high levels of poverty and violence, particularly violence against women and children.
“Unemployment and poor levels of service delivery as highlighted by numerous public protests, some of them violent, around the country are also worrying,” he told ANA.
But looking at positive developments, despite the hardships, many Africans are actively involved in the fight for the protection and promotion of human rights added Thipanyane.
“This is what makes the difference. That is why we are not like Somalia or Sudan. But due to the challenges, neither are we Sweden.”
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Looking to the future, the SAHRC official said that other signs of hope included the proactive developments currently taking place, including the leadership changes in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) which since December had brought renewed energy, hope and commitment to really advance human rights and strengthen South Africa’s democracy.
“There is always hope and this is important. It was hope that kept us going under apartheid,” said Thipanyane.
“But that hope requires action from all of us and efforts from all sectors of society, the government, business, individuals, human rights commissions, civil society and the media,” he added.
Alex Fitzgerald, the SAHRC’s senior legal officer agreed with much of what Thipanyane had to say, adding “there are a great deal of human rights violations being committed across South Africa every day".
Fitzgerald was born and brought up in the United Kingdom but returned to her South African roots to follow her passion for human rights.
Although South Africa has a great human rights constitution the failure to implement these is due to a lack of capacity, knowledge, skills and political will, Fitzgerald told ANA.
“Human rights are not seen as a primary aim across broad sectors of society, including corporations which see profit as their main motive. The government is also lacking when it comes to delivery services,” she added.
But South Africa is doing quite well when it comes to the rest of the continent, with its comprehensive bill of rights and active civil society.
“Human rights in many African countries are constrained by laws, socio-economic issues and flawed political systems,” said Fitzgerald.
Future problems facing South Africa include the different aims of different sectors of society and their differing priorities.
Also there are many human rights issues, and none of them take precedence over the others, for instance refugees versus the disabled. There are also limited resources available and a limited capacity for fighting rights abuses.
“However, there is growing awareness of human rights in South Africa as people are more comfortable with this discourse, while simultaneously more individuals are able to vindicate their rights,” Fitzgerald told ANA.