President Cyril Ramaphosa: 2019 Human Rights Day

Friday, 22 March, 2019 - 08:20

Language is an integral part of the identity of a people. It is at the heart of who they are, of their culture, of how they define themselves, and the most important legacy they pass to their children.

We have dedicated this year’s Human Rights Day celebrations to the promotion of indigenous languages as a fundamental part of building a human rights culture.

Keynote address by President Cyril Ramaphosa on the occasion of national Human Rights Day at the George Thabe Sports Ground, Sharpeville

Programme Directors,
Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa,
Premier of Gauteng, Mr David Makhura,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Members of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures,
Executive Mayor of Sedibeng District Municipality, Cllr Busisiwe Modisakeng,
Executive Mayor of Emfuleni Local Municipality, Cllr Gift Moerane,
Leaders of political parties,
Religious leaders and traditional leaders,
Members of civil society,
Families of the victims of the Sharpeville Massacre,
Fellow South Africans,

Good morning. Goeidag. Sanibonani. Dumelang. Avuxeni. Molweni. Lotjhani. !kai//oab. Ndaa

With this greeting I offer tribute to the diversity of our great land, and to the rich cultural tapestry on which the story of our people and their history has been woven since the dawn of time.

U kona u amba luambo lwau lwa ḓamuni, u ri ṅwana wau a kone u funzwa tshikoloni nga luambo lwawe lwa ḓamuni, ndi yone pfanelo ya ndemesa ya muthu.

To be able to speak one’s mother tongue, to have one’s children taught in their mother tongue, is the most fundamental of human rights.

Puo ke karolo ya bohlokwa e supang seo batho re leng sona, e bohareng ba seo re leng sona ebile ke setso sa batho, puo ke ka moo batho ba itlhalosang ka teng, mme ke lefa la bohlokwahadi leo ba le fetisetsang baneng ba bona.

Language is an integral part of the identity of a people. It is at the heart of who they are, of their culture, of how they define themselves, and the most important legacy they pass to their children.

We have dedicated this year’s Human Rights Day celebrations to the promotion of indigenous languages as a fundamental part of building a human rights culture.

This coincides with the United Nations declaration of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. 

In according all our languages the respect that they are due, we are affirming the dignity, worth and humanity of every South African. 

It is said that when a language dies, a way of understanding the world dies with it. 

The aim of this year’s celebration therefore is to highlight efforts to conserve languages that are in danger of becoming extinct.

We can be immensely proud of the efforts underway in our country.

The Nama language of the Khoisan people is now being taught in primary schools in the Northern Cape, and a language rule book is being finalised by the Pan South African Language Board.

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities is actively involved in resuscitating Isihlubi, Isibhaca, Northern Ndebele and other indigenous languages.

As part of our commitment to empower and foster respect for the rights of people with disabilities, a proposal has been submitted to Parliament to elevate South African Sign Language to the status of an official language.

Next month, the very first Xitsonga drama series will premiere on SABC.

In ons verlede is taal as ‘n instrument van onderdrukking gebruik. 

Vandag is dit ‘n bron van bemagtiging en trots.

In our past, language was used as an instrument of oppression. Today, it is a source of empowerment and pride. 

Every time an indigenous language is spoken freely and without restraint, every time one is broadcast on our airwaves – re dira se e le segopotšo go motheo wa tumelo yeo e hlagišitšwego go matsenyagae a Molaotheo wa rena.

…we are paying homage to the core belief expressed in the preamble to our Constitution.

Ka gore re setšhaba se se kopantšwego ka go fapana ga rena.

We are a nation united in our diversity.

It was here in Sharpeville that President Nelson Mandela signed the Constitution of South Africa into law, enshrining the rights of all people.

Today, we gather here again, at a place where one of the greatest tragedies in our country took place.

The killing of unarmed civilians by a callous and brutal regime – both here and in Langa – showed the world the bitter reality of life for black South Africans under the terror of apartheid. 

The Sharpeville and Langa massacre came to symbolise the moral superiority of the anti-apartheid cause.

Though lacking the guns of their oppressors, they were determined to stand up for what was right, no matter the cost. 

Babeze ngoxolo, baze bahlangatyezwa yimvula yeembumbulu.

They came in peace, and were met by a hail of bullets.

The regime had no regard for even the most basic of human rights, the right to protest freely.

But try as they might, they could not extinguish the torch of liberty carried by the brave men and women who came before us.

Kodwa ezo mbumbulo zange zibaphelise amandla, zange futhi ziphelise oko babekumele.

Those bullets did not kill their spirits, and what they stood for.

They had set in motion a process that 25 years ago would free our people of their chains. 

Because of them, the children of Sharpeville, of Langa, of Soweto, of Umlazi, of Zamdela, of Lephalale, will never know the pain and humiliation of being a stranger in the land of their birth.

Our freedom was won through their courage, and we owe them an immense debt.

Ngakho-ke, sihlonipha lawo maqhawe namaqhawekazi abantu bethu abakhokhela inkululeko yethu ngezimpilo zabo.

Amagama abo ayohlala eqoshwe emlandweni wethu, ngeke siwalibale.

And so we pay homage to these heroes and heroines of our people who paid for our liberation with their lives. Their names are forever etched on the scroll of our history, and they will never be forgotten.

We invoke their memories when we look at just how far we have come as a nation in advancing human rights across our society.

Gompieno re tshela mo setšhabeng se se gololesegileng, moo ditshwanelo tsa batho botlhe di sirelediwang le go netefatsa gore di a obamelwa ka tiriso ya Molaotheo wa rona.

Today we live in a free society, where the human rights of all are protected and enforced through our Constitution.

Bound by our belief in our Constitution, we continue to work towards the realisation of a country that is united, non-racial, non-sexist, prosperous and free.

As the elected government of the people, for the people and by the people, respect for human rights is the bedrock of our actions.

Working together, we have transformed South Africa from a society driven by a race-based, exclusionary and divisive ideology, to a democracy where all citizens enjoy equal rights before the law.

Over the past 25 years, we have worked hard to give expression to the rights our Constitution promises our people.

Since 1994, millions of South Africans have been provided with access to housing, health care, basic services and social welfare protection. 

While only around half of all young children attended school in 1994, today we have near universal access for children aged 7-14 years.

There are over two million students in our institutions of higher learning and vocational training colleges, many of these from poor and working class backgrounds.

We have a legal system that enforces and protects the rights of all.

Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or disability is forbidden by our laws.

It is fitting that South Africa marks Human Rights Day on the same day that the United Nations celebrates World Down Syndrome Day, because our approach to the needs and interests of persons with disability is at all times guided by our Bill of Rights.

On this day, we must support efforts to raise awareness about down syndrome and confront discrimination, ignorance and prejudice.

We must affirm our determination that in the struggle for human rights – to borrow the theme of World Down Syndrome Day – we must leave no one behind.

It is for that reason that we will move with urgency to sign and ratify the Africa Disability Protocol, in terms of the requirements of our law, so that it may soon become an official legal instrument of the African Union. 

Despite the achievement of the last 25 years, we know that we are still a long way off from attaining an egalitarian society. 

If we are to fulfil the promise made at the dawn of democracy in 1994, we need to transform our economy to ensure it benefits us all.

We are determined to place South Africa’s economy more firmly on the path to recovery. 

We are on an ambitious drive to industrialise, to attract investment, and to create more jobs for our people.

It is only when all our people enjoy equal opportunities to find work and to start their own businesses that they can better themselves and improve their lives.

So long as one section of the population enjoys some or all of these rights while the rights of others remain unfulfilled, we will forever be a divided and restless society.

Deep fault lines still exist in our country between those who have access to land, and those who were dispossessed of their birthright through centuries of colonial and apartheid policies.

It is for this reason that we have embarked upon a path to transform patterns of land access and ownership.

There remains a huge gulf between those who have skills, employment and opportunities and those who are on the margins of the economy, between those who have assets and those who have none.

Our commitment to human rights requires that all our efforts are directed at ending inequality, creating jobs and growing our economy.

It requires that we confront the substantial social and economic challenges we face, a consequence both of the devastating legacy of our past and some of our own missteps over the last 25 years.

Energy, like housing, water and health care, is a human rights issue.

It may not be mentioned in the Bill of Rights, but it is fundamental to the dignity, safety, health and well-being of our people.

None dare deny that we have made remarkable progress in providing our people with access to electricity.

In 1994, only 36% of the population had access to electricity. 

Today, 8 out of 10 South Africans have electricity in their homes.

Yet, we are currently facing a severe energy crisis that is having a profound impact on the lives of our people and our economy.

Restoring a reliable supply of electricity – and ensuring that we have a sustainable model for affordable energy into the future – is now one of our most urgent priorities.

We have confronted difficulties before – challenges that have seemed insurmountable – but we have prevailed, through working together and never giving up.

We will overcome the electricity crisis, just as we will overcome unemployment and poverty, crime and corruption.

We will overcome the intolerance, bigotry, sexism and violence that still plagues our society.

Children are assaulting and even killing each other in the schoolyard. 

Men are turning their fists on their mothers, their partners and their children, who look to them for respect and protection.

People with disabilities are being discriminated against in the workplace and in their communities, and have become vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment.

Women and girls live in fear of sexual assault, and often do not feel free to walk the streets, get into taxis or be out after dark.

Schools, clinics and other infrastructure upon which our people depend are being vandalised and even destroyed.

Around the country, many communities feel under siege from gangsters, criminals and thugs.

This is not the South Africa we fought for. 

This is not the South Africa we are working to build. 

This is not the South Africa the heroes of Sharpeville died for. 

We come from a grim and dark past. 

We must never return to a time when the rights of others are trampled upon to serve narrow ends.

We must intensify our efforts to give effect to the rights promised by our Constitution.

This can only be realised if we work together, and reinforce the strong human rights culture upon which our country was founded. 

This cannot be the responsibility of government alone. 

It begins with the individual. 

Kuqala emakhaya ethu, lapho sifaka khona izimfundiso ngenhlonipho nokubekezelelana ezinganeni zethu.

It begins in our homes, where we instil the values of respect and tolerance in our children.

It begins when false machismo and toxic masculinity is not praised by other men, but rejected.

Dit begin wanneer gemeenskappe opstaan, dat hulle in Gemeenskaps Polisie Forums betrokke wees en misdaad rapporteer.

It begins when communities take a stand against, by being active in community policing forums, and reporting crime.

E thoma ge bašomi ba setšhaba ba dira mešomo ya bona e sego ka makoko le boikgodišo, eupša ba akaretša molawana wa Batho Pele wa setho, tlhompho le kwelobohloko.

It begins when public servants perform their tasks not with arrogance and condescension, but embody the Batho Pele principles of courtesy, respect and empathy.

It begins when elected officials remind themselves daily of the reasons why they are there, to serve the people and their interests, and not their own.

It begins when companies hold themselves to their own codes of ethics and good business practices, and not engage in activities that cheat and exploit society’s most vulnerable.

Fellow South Africans,

Today, we gather at a site where the lives of 69 people were brutally cut short because of prejudice and intolerance.

Just a few days ago, one of the countries that offered us invaluable support in our struggle against apartheid, New Zealand, fell victim to an act of such violence and cowardice that it stunned the world.

We have conveyed our deepest condolences to the government and the people of New Zealand following the massacre that took place at two mosques in Christchurch on 15 March.

In the people of New Zealand, we have an ally in the struggle for human rights, world peace and a strong system of multinational institutions. 

We are bound together by a common humanity and a shared destiny.

Together, we are determined to defeat hate and prejudice, intolerance and violence.


The road we have travelled has been a long one. 

The achievement of a society that respects fundamental human rights was hard won. 

We fought, we resisted, and ultimately, we prevailed.

Ri tshimbila kha ṋayo dza Vho Nelson Mandela, Vho Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, Vho Steve Biko, Vho Mme Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Vho Mme Albertina Sisulu na vhaṅwe vhaḓivhalea vha nndwa ya mbofholowo.

We walk in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, Steve Biko, Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mama Albertina Sisulu and many other luminaries of our struggle.

We draw strength and courage from them as we confront the challenges of the here and now.

Together, let us deepen the culture of human rights and become true human rights activists – committed to dignity, freedom, justice and equality. 

Not just for ourselves or our families or our communities, but for the sake of all with which we share this beautiful land. 

I thank you.

This article was issued by the Presidency in government and first appeared on South African Governement website
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