March 21, 2013

Zuma remembers Sharpeville, reflects on South Africa today

Zuma visis with strikers at Marikana
where 34 miners were killed by police last year

Rebel Youth reprints this excerpt from a speech by South African President Jacob Zuma on March 21st 2013, commemorating the Sharpeville Massacre and Human Rights Day, for discussion.

The 1923 Bill of Rights, the African Claims of 1943, the Women's Charter in 1954, the Freedom Charter in 1955 and the ANC's 1988 Constitutional Principles for a Democratic South Africa are our national pride.

These documents, developed by the ruling party the ANC during the struggle for liberation, underline and confirm South Africa's longstanding systematic development of policy affirming human rights. They informed the content of the Constitution of the Republic at the dawn of freedom.

We are particularly proud of the fact that the landmark 1943 Bill of Rights was produced five years ahead of the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. South Africa led the world in this regard!

Today is also the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, proclaimed in 1966 in memory of the Sharpeville massacre, by the United Nations through UN resolution 2142...

We mark Human Rights Day 2013 under the theme; "United in advancing socio-economic freedom for all". The purpose is to promote the idea of socio-economic freedom for all South Africans.

It also highlights the advanced nature of our Constitution which recognises more than just political and civil rights.

This was based on the understanding that civil and political rights mean little if they are not accompanied by tangible socio-economic rights. These include the rights to housing, education and health care and the right to favourable working conditions.

While marking the importance of socio-economic rights today, we also highlight the fact that today has a particular significance, as it is a day on which in 1960 the apartheid police shot and killed 69 people and wounded many others in Sharpeville. The liberation movement resolved then, to build a South Africa in which such incidents would never occur when freedom dawned.

This is also the commitment of the democratic government.

Today we re-affirm our determination to build a police service that respects the rights of all. The South African Police this year marks a centenary of its existence. The period since its establishment in 1913 until 1994, is marked by state-sanctioned cruelty and brutality by the policy.

In 1994 the democratic government began to transform the police service into one that is people-centred and which serves all the people of our country. A lot of progress has been made with regards to both transformation and service delivery.

Today we are happy that each year statistics indicate a reduction in serious crimes.

Crimes against women and children remain a serious problem but statistics prove that the perpetrators are being caught and punished. We trust that this will act as a deterrent. For example, in the past financial year, police secured over 363 life sentences, with a conviction rate of over 70% for crimes against women and girls.

At the same time, there have been some regrettable, shocking and unacceptable incidents involving the South African Police Service since the last Human Rights Day commemoration.

These include the Marikana tragedy and other cases of police brutality against suspects. Government has taken action on both.

There is a commission probing the Marikana incident and we will not comment much on it at this stage until the findings. The law is taking its course with regards to the other incidents.

However, these incidents should not make us condemn our entire police service which comprises 200 000 men and women as being brutal.

The overwhelming majority of our police fight crime within the confines and discipline of the Constitution and we applaud them for that.

We urge you today, to continue supporting the police in their work. The police can only continue succeeding in fighting crime if they have the support of communities they serve.

We must support them as well in their efforts to root out rotten apples from their ranks who engage in criminal action including corruption.

To promote a human rights ethos amongst police officials, we have directed that the SAPS Code of Conduct, in which an ethos of human rights is firmly entrenched, be promoted amongst all police officials.

They must live, breathe and personify the police Code of Conduct.

Included in this pledge of excellence, signed by each police official upon attestation, is the promise to do the following:

"to uphold and protect the fundamental rights of every person; act in a manner that is impartial, courteous, honest, respectful, transparent and accountable; exercise the powers conferred in a responsible and controlled manner;

"And work towards preventing any form of corruption and to bring the
perpetrators thereof to justice".

We expect our men and women in blue to live up to that promise.

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