President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Friday it was unfortunate that 70 years after the declaration of human rights was adopted, many South Africans were still not afforded decent living conditions.
Ramaphosa was delivering the keynote address at the 70th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights, held at the Constitutional Hill building in Johannesburg.
“Far too many of our people still live in squalor and misery, denied opportunity and their chance to better their lives because of poverty, lack of a decent education, and other forms of disadvantage,” he said.
Civil society groups, organisations and scores of people attended the anniversary event.
“When you consider the many years under colonialism and apartheid rule… 25 years into democracy… we have been dealing with that legacy that entrenched itself; that become conventions, traditions, laws and practices,” he said.
During the address, Ramaphosa made frequent reference to the debate around land expropriation without compensation, which he said was a symbol of a healthy democracy.
“We will all be aware of the robust and welcome debates that have taken place around the land issue and land ownership in South Africa. It is a sign of the health of our democracy that an extensive and wide-ranging process of public participation preceded the decision of our parliament to adopt the resolutions and recommendations of a committee with regards to land expropriation,” he said.
The president said the participation in the debate over the amendment of the constitution to allow for expropriation without compensation was an indication that people had faith in the constitution.
“This process has been a barometer of public sentiment and also an affirmation of the resilience of our constitutional order. Our citizens have participated with a great deal of enthusiasm, showing that across the land they still retain the utmost faith in our constitution,” said Ramaphosa.
He added that while the living conditions of many South Africans had not changed, “we owe it to the memories of Mandela, Sisulu and many other freedom fighters of our country to keep the faith”.
“Our constitution is the most potent instrument we have to change the lives of our people. It means… we are able to protect the vulnerable against the abuse of power.”
Ramaphosa added: “The constitution must never be seen as a constraint or a barrier to transformation, the constitution is a means by which we maintain our commitment to the declaration of human rights. The need to protect the inalienable right of every human being to live a life of freedom, a life of dignity is what bought the nations of the world together 70 years ago.”
Minister of justice and correctional services Michael Masutha stressed the need to honour those who had fought tirelessly for freedom. He also acknowledged the scourge of violence against women and children, saying that urgent intervention was needed.
“South Africans need to tackle two major challenges: the escalating violence, especially directed to woman and children. We need to tackle greed in our society, which results in corruption and continues to hold back our government,” said Masutha.