March 21st is a day for millions of South Africans come together to commemorate the nation’s annual Human Rights Day: an occasion historically connected to the peaceful protest against Pass Laws which took place on March 21st 1960, in Sharpeville, and also during which police brutally killed 69 and injured 180 participating civilians. The day, in spite of its painfully significant turn of events, was a bold affirmation by ordinary South Africans of their personal dignity and uncompromising willingness to defend their basic human rights.
As a social entrepreneur working to defend the right to education for the most marginalised communities in South Africa, I am inspired to celebrate this Human Rights Day in gratitude to the martyrs who fought for our freedom in 1960, while also reflecting on my own personal - and our collective - role in furthering our country’s much celebrated constitution. Twenty four years into our democracy, South Africa certainly has many incredible milestones to celebrate and yet, this year’s Human Rights Day theme “The Year of O.R. Tambo: Unity in Action in Advancing Human Rights” suggests a deep call-to-action for us to unite in our strides towards furthering the basic human rights and dignity of all our citizens. Nowhere is such a need for unity greater than in the intersection between human rights and education; the crucial sector underpinning the progress of every society.
In my work as an inclusive education specialist and human rights activist for, particularly, persons living with disability, I have seen firsthand the detrimental effect that exclusion from basic education can have on the most marginalised and impoverished communities in our country. Education, as a basic human right, is the single most important element to advancing our society and one which the state must, by any means necessary, make available and accessible to all. With the Human Rights Watch reporting in 2015 that an estimated 500 000 children living with disability in South Africa are not in school, the issue of inclusive and accessible education is becoming increasingly urgent and the need for intervention more pressing than before.
The need for change in our education system, as a crucial catalyst to the advancement of human rights in our country, undoubtedly presents many challenges; but within such challenges also lies unique opportunities for improving the lives of millions of marginalised South Africans living below the poverty line. I wish to present a few recommendations, both to the state and to the ordinary South African eager to make a difference, as we unite to advance human rights in our society and, most importantly, the basic right to education for all.
Firstly, I wish to appeal to the state to prioritise its engagement with and support of private sector education organisations whose mission is directly aligned to that of the state’s education policies and goals. Such engagement will not only increase the private sector's eagerness to impact the education system at a grassroots level, but it will also strengthen the state’s capacity to meet the growing needs of our education system with the input and expertise of the most experienced members of our society.
Secondly, in order for the private sector to make any meaningful contribution to advancing the right to education for all in South Africa, more accurate and transparent data on the current status of education in our country needs to be updated regularly and made available to the public without discretion. Proper, data-driven knowledge of the extent to which the right to education is reinforced and implemented in our society will allow grassroots changemakers and private sector organisations the opportunity to create more informed and innovate solutions to increasing access to education for all.
Thirdly, and lastly, to the public members of our society: let today be an inspiration for us all to make a unique promise to honour the human rights of our family members, extended community and society at large by practicing the common human philosophy that ties us all together - ubuntu. Change is only possible when the individual serves the collective with the greater good of all humanity at the forefront of each and every one of our actions. As we work towards a better future for every South African, let us us not forget the cost of our current freedom and the work which still lies ahead of us in making sure that our country is truly a rainbow nation for all. It all begins with the realisation of the basic human rights and dignity of our fellow citizens and the responsibility each of us has to be our brother’s keeper especially on this monumental Human Rights Day.
To make your voice heard in the fight against unequal access to education for 500 000 South African children living with disability , sign Kula Education’s petition today.
Mpho MacChambers is a Human Rights and disabilities advocate. She is the president of Kula Education Group, a hybrid social enterprise pioneering innovative and sustainable approaches to inclusive education, training and skills development for a population of over four million South Africans living with a disability.