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Speech by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP in in the Debate on 20th Anniversary of the Constitution and Human Rights Day

15 March 2017, National Assembly

Madam House Chairperson,
Honourable Members

In some of the darkest periods in our country's history the poet, Mafika Gwala, wrote a poem called "Kwela-Ride." It reads -

Dompas!
I looked back
Dompas!
I went through my pockets
Not there.
They bit into my flesh, handcuffs.

Came the kwela-kwela
We crawled in.
The young men sang.
In that dark moment
It all became familiar.

Many of us recall elements of those dark moments in our history - the dompas, the pencil test, forced removals, detention without trial, States of Emergency.

Things that, as the poem says, became familiar to us - although no human being should have been subjected to it.

Our Constitution stands like a stark refuge against the evils of our past.

Today, we are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination where, the human dignity of a person is not based on the colour of their skin.

The Constitution is a national compact that seeks to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.

Our Constitution did not come from the heavens like the 10 Commandments which God dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai.

It came essentially from the position of the African National Congress developed over a century of struggle. Honourable Motshekga who spoke earlier has provided more detail in this regard.

It is a roadmap that seeks to transform the political, economic and social relations in South Africa.

The Constitution has drastically transformed our country. Advances made by government have had a positive impact on the lives of the people across a number of key areas.

We have built democratic institutions.

We have repealed apartheid legislation and passed laws that meet the requirements of the Constitution.

We have had free and fair - and peaceful - elections.

Where there were, in the past, disparity in government services along racial and geographic lines, this has been changed.

The inclusion of justiciable socio-economic rights in our Constitution is critical to the attainment of socio-economic equality.

In the last financial year, about 9 million learners benefitted from the "no fee" school policy. More than 9 million learners benefitted from the National School Nutrition Programme.

Across population groups there is an increase of persons attending educational institutions - with the number of black Africans attending an educational institution increasing from 10 million in 1996 to nearly 15 million in 2016.

The expansion of health programmes has led to the increase in life expectancy. Infant mortality rate has declined.

Formal housing has grown by 50% since 1994, translating to an additional 5,6 million formal homes. Government has delivered a total of 4,48 million housing opportunities and subsidies.

South Africans are enjoying a higher standard of living.

This is because of a Constitution that guarantees human rights and an ANC Government that gives effect to those rights - by formulating and implementing some of the most progressive policies in the world.

The opposition will stand here today and present themselves as the great defenders of the Constitution.

Yet, in truth they are extremely selective when they shout "constitution, constitution."

It always amazes me how some, like the Hon Mulder, loudly uses the Constitution to support his arguments when his own party opposed the attainment of democracy in South Africa.

Some in this House are nothing short of two-faced when it comes to Constitution.

They decry the use of violence against striking workers, but encourage violence, lawlessness and anarchy on our university campuses. They incite people to unlawfully occupy land.

They will run to court as the drop of a hat when their own right to freedom of speech is seemingly infringed, but, sadly, disregard the rights of others.

They advocate democracy and support for the Constitution, but make a mockery of Parliament - a Parliament which finds its existence in the Constitution.

They disrupt SONA, infringing the rights of every citizen who may actually want to hear what government is saying.

When Members speak in Parliament, whether or not you agree with them, they must be allowed to speak - yet they seek to silence Members by countless objections dressed up as points of order.

Always quick to seek out a TV camera, always quick to play to the media, that's the EFF. One is reminded of a poem, born out of the Civil Rights movement, by African-American Gil Scott-Heron:

Freedom and real transformation require more than sensationalist sound-bites and taunting TV-clips.

Then there is the DA. They have a campaign called "Know Your DA." They claim that "from the birth of the Progressive Party in 1959 to the constitutional negotiations at CODESA, the DA never stopped fighting against apartheid."

So they say. They say they never stopped fighting against apartheid - but they never, before the 1990s, fought for "one person, one vote." Never.

The vast majority of white people vote for the DA - the majority of those, who were voting in the 1980s, voted for apartheid and whilst there may be younger people who only voted after 1994, they are still the beneficiaries of apartheid and mostly opposed to transformation.

The DA is right-wing organisation, against the transformational values that our Constitution seeks to achieve.

As a party seeking power, they will, in an attempt to try and attract black voters, seemingly espouse policies that seem more appealing to the majority. But look at their representation in this House - not exactly representative of the South African population.

They have only 20 African MPs - Africans represent over 80% of the population and an astounding 58 White MPs - whites represent only 8% of the populations, so it's very clear who they represent.

The DA claims to uphold the legacy of Nelson Mandela, but the DA has not even adopted the Freedom Charter - a document a former DA Chief Whip Douglas Gibson describes as "a pamphlet drawn up by a political party - nothing more and nothing less".

Of course, we know what the Hon Maimane's views are on gay rights. According to media reports the Hon Maimane's church - where he is a pastor - "is not in favour of marriage equality (and in fact sees homosexuals as sinners and equates them to alcoholics)." He also regards Muslims as sinners. So much for freedom of religion

As for xenophobia: civil society recently accused the DA's Johannesburg mayor, Herman Mashaba, of inciting violence against foreign nationals after he allegedly referred to them as "criminals."

The Hon Kohler-Barnard misses PW Botha and the DA Caucus leader Hon Anchen Dreyer goes around hugging a cardboard cut-out of Transvaal President Paul Kruger. Kruger was the epitome of everything the Constitution is not. If you want to celebrate Afrikaner heroes, why not celebrate Braam Fischer or Beyers Naude!

In 2011 a judgement was handed down in the Western Cape High Court stating that the City of Cape Town had violated the constitutional right to dignity. The city had constructed 1 316 unenclosed toilets in Khayelitsha. The court held that the unenclosed toilets were inconsistent with the city's constitutional duty to provide the poorest of the poor with their basic needs. The Mayor at the time was Dan Plato - current MEC for Community Safety in the Western Cape.

The DA claims to be pro-poor and has often claimed that the City of Cape Town spends 67% of its budget in poor communities. But, says Africa Check, that's not true - it' actually only 49%.

Know your DA.

A DA whose labour policy is based on classic right-wing economics:

They say UIF contributions should be halved. They want to amend the Labour Relations Act which imposes restrictions on employers wishing to dismiss employees.

They want SETAs disbanded. They want to introduce a six-month probation period during which firms will face no penalty for dismissing workers.

They want to amend Schedule 8 of the LRA which means that employers don't have to take steps to improve employee performance prior to dismissal.

Remember the fiasco around the Employment Equity Amendment Bill which deals with demographic diversity in the work place.

The DA voted in favour of the Bill in the National Assembly, but a couple of weeks later withdrew its support.

Perhaps most telling is the DA's policy on black economic empowerment. A DA poster, echoing their 2014 manifesto, showed a black man in a construction safety hat with the caption of "We support BEE that creates jobs not billionaires." That's exactly how the DA sees black South Africans - as labour. Not as owners of capital, not as professionals, but as labour.

Know your DA indeed.

We know that the Constitution - and the laws, policies and programmes of this Government in terms of the Constitution - seek to provide opportunities for all, human dignity for all, and equality and freedom for all.

As poet Lebogang Mashile writes -

"Every child should know the scope of their greatness
Is contained in the weightless
Inconvertible light that is their truest being
My child will know that boxes like race, class and gender
Are fated to be transcended in the face of a limitless self that is free."
Thank you.

     
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