South Africa is facing a heap of dangerous challenges today, each of which puts our country into a perilous position. Human Rights Day is an opportunity to reflect on the brutality and injustices of the past to negotiate a safer and more humane passage to the future. Keeping alive our humanism is our only guarantee to a better future.
Racism is still a serious menace in our society. It seems lost on many bigoted people that every human being is descended of an African mother. Therefore, as Steve Biko so rightly pointed out, there is only the human race that we have to be cognizant of. The campaign against racism, noble as it is, will attract non racists but effect no change on those who are racists at heart. This huge effort will be symbolic rather than substantive.
On Human Rights Day we should focus our concentration on human rights with no subsidiary issue taking precedence. Today, for example, we read in the Sunday Times of 205 Grade 11 learners being crammed into one classroom at St Patrick’s Senior School in Libode in the Eastern Cape. All of South Africa should rise up in protest at this violation of our children’s human rights. For them to be crammed so tightly together in a poorly ventilated room must incense us and provoke a universal reaction from us. Today we should be saying with one unequivocal voice: thus far and no further.
Racism hurts but what is happening at Libode is a gross violation of the human rights of this group of children and a moral challenge to all of us. As the government squanders scarce resources on itself and continues to live large and have dreams of magnificent rural estates paid for by taxpayers, South Africans in large numbers are suffering endlessly day after day.
Last week COPE raised the issue of garbage piled up high in every corner of Joe Slovo township in Milnerton, Cape Town. Millions of flies swarmed over the uncollected litter. The City acted only when the protests became serious. A week later, it was back to the old normal. Why should the residents of Joe Slovo experience such perennial neglect? Why do the rest of us who enjoy better circumstances say nothing? Is the problem of a township confined only to township residents? Does it not scar our conscience that citizens get such unequal services in our democracy?
For us in COPE, nothing must distract the nation’s attention from the manner in which governing parties are continuously assailing the human rights of South Africans. Those who eat crayfish may very well suggest that the poor should be given cake, but in failing to offer bread at the very least they will be stoking a revolution. Let us not temp fate!
The time has come to move on from what is symbolic and nice to that which is substantive and imminently threatening. Racism must be defeated but we must do so by awakening and energising our humanism. Let us show real concern for the welfare of all. Through our focus on humanism we will overcome racism and prevent a major revolt from breaking out. We are at the crossroads and it is important that we deal with issues substantively rather than symbolically.