Saturday was a truly South African national holiday, Human Right’s Day. On the one hand it is a day set aside to commemorate the Sharpville Massacre in 1960 and on the other hand it is the day that South Africans celebrate the arrival of a new Bill of Rights in 1997. And this typical of South Africa too… the highs and the lows co-exist side by side. According to our Bill of Rights everybody has a right to life, equality and human dignity. We are proud to call ourselves the Rainbow Nation… every colour represented under our African sky. And as a nation we are exceptionally good at celebrations.
But just like the rest of the world, our news is peppered with events that indicate that it takes a a whole more than a Bill of Rights for folk to live comfortably alongside each other. One cannot help but be overwhelmed at news broadcasts, and the indifference that is practised towards even the most basic of Human Rights. It seems that, even after so many years, our country is still falling so short in so many areas. The gulf between the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the “haves” and “have nots” seems ever present.
It goes without saying that South Africa has much to celebrate on Human Right’s Day, considering her chequered past. Then again every time one reads the news, and not just local news, that overwhelming feeling can leave us turning away and trying not to notice. Our kids are regular kids and while they might squabble over enough place at the table, they also can’t help noticing that there is a vast difference in a childhood where there is green grass to play on, on the slopes of Table Mountain and one with a community yard of sandy gravel on the Cape Flats. Just getting around the Cape Peninsula you cannot help but notice that there are huge distinctions. And while it is great to celebrate that everyone over eighteen, in our country has the right to vote… it is scandalous that people right here in our area are without proper housing, without access to education… without access to food and clean water. I think it might be safe to say, that it is not really the time to look the other way and leave Human Right’s problems just to the authorities.
I think our children need to be aware that the rights that they so often squabble about are not actually Human Rights, and that some rights are really worth fighting for. My hope for Human Right’s Day is that it stands as a firm reminder to all of us, not just to celebrate a certain freedom, but to do something. We can’t all be called to build a school or provide water to a community. We can’t all necessarily start a feeding scheme or put a stop to crimes against the elderly. But we can all in a small way, do something.
Let’s not become complacent and self-righteous about where we appear to be in the scheme of things. In fact, let our children see that we are doing something, and that they too can make a difference. I firmly believe that big changes begin with little changes – and who knows that small step that we take to making a difference could well be exactly the spark that somebody else needed to do something big. Really there is no big or small action when it comes to Human Rights… there is just action. And we all can take some.