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Speech by the Minister of Science and Technology, Hon. N Pandor, ANC MP in in the Debate on 20th Anniversary of the Constitution and Human Rights Day

15 March 2017, National Assembly

Human rights Day Debate

House of Assembly

This year has been dedicated to a noble veteran and stalwart of our struggle and our freedom, Oliver Reginald Tambo. A man pulled by history and fate into a role of political and ethical stewardship of the ANC and the broader liberation movement. In marking our late president's centenary we do him a well deserved honour.

I find it difficult, however, to honour him without reference to his partner for life, and herself a great woman and leader, Mana Adelaide Tambo. It's these heroes and heroines who come to mind whenever we have the opportunity to reflect on our constitutional framework and the subject of human rights. OR Tambo worked tirelessly to prepare for and shape our Constitution.

There are many in our country who attempt to remind us that our constitution is not perfect and must be changed from time to time. They are not entirely wrong, as constitutions are amended from time to time in all constitutional states. I do, however, wish to assert that our nation must listen with due care to these constitution-change agents, as many of them may pose a danger to the very careful, intricate balances contained in our founding document.

Our Constitution is a finely wrought puzzle, fitting together the complexity of our awful apartheid history, the beauty of our largely peaceful mass struggle for freedom, and the brave hope that the wonderful aspirations of our bill of rights will be fully met for all the people of our country.

To South Africans, I say the constitution is your best hope against arbitrary exercise of power and exploitation. Guard it. Jealously.

Honourable members, we have achieved many advances through practical action on human rights.

  • Provided a monthly social grant for over 17 million people
  • Built about 3 million million new houses
  • Provided clean water to an extra 9 million people
  • Provided free schooling to about 7 million learners each year
  • Brought about over 4 million new electricity connections
  • Provided a free daily meal to over 5 million primary school children every year.
  • spent billions on infrastructure, creating new jobs in a number of areas
  • expanded our public works programmes and community work programmes, providing work opportunities
  • implemented skills development and education policies to prepare people for employment in new economic sectors
  • supported small business with training and finance to unleash their economic potential
  • focused on programmes to address youth unemployment such as learnerships, the national youth service programme, community work programme and subsidies for youth employment.
  • developed an anti-HIV and AIDS programme that has saved lives and increased life expectancy, reduced overall mortality, dramatically reduced maternal mortality, dramatically reduced mother to child transmission and reduced in child and infant mortality and reduced TB mortality due to successful ARV treatment. 
  • prepared for the introduction of a National Health Insurance scheme.

As we mark these achievements, we must also acknowledge there is a long distance still to be travelled and that we are not quite within reach of the ideal state envisaged in the Freedom Charter and in the Bill of Rights. As some have said in this house, we are at fault in that we have failed to promote human rights, in partnership, with responsibility. We are careless in our posture and our words. In one voice we decry violence at Marikana, while in the same breath we support violence during protests and talk of violence toward each other in democratic processes. We advocate democracy and yet fail to allow some to speak in this very house. We hail our constitution's assertion of our common humanity and dignity, yet hurl demeaning insults at each other in the foulest terms in full view of our nation.

It seems we may need to recall that our presence is sanctioned here by the people, to represent them and ensure their hopes are realised.

Most importantly, our Constitution provides the protection of the rule of law. It's a protection that assures South Africans will never again be victims of arbitrary governance - as was the case under apartheid. Never again will their property be arbitrarily seized by illegal means. Never again will they be subject to ethnic chauvinism and exploitation. Never again will they be the victims of job reservation and unequal wages.

Let me end with this remark on the equality clause in our Bill of Rights.

Today, we have achieved a level of gender equality - shaped by our constitution - that has only been accomplished in other countries after many decades of democracy.
With that in mind, look at the global consequences of gender inequality.

More women die in wars than men.
More women live in poverty than men.
More women are unemployed than men.

When we use women's talents, then we all benefit. When we use women's talents, we build a better world.

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