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Celebrating Human Rights Day and our Constitution in South Africa

Human Rights Day was officially declared a public holiday in 1994 after Madiba was inaugurated. On the 21st of March, South Africans are allowed to take the day off to honour the Sharpeville massacre and celebrate our Constitution, which contains the Bill of Rights and is one of the most important threads in the fabric of our democracy.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

South Africa is said to have the most liberal constitution in the world, this shows that we have indeed made significant strides in attempting to heal our country and our fighting spirit highlights the fact that we will not give up on the pursuit of a better life for all. We should all be inspired by our resilience and this should serve as a constant reminder that human rights will always be worth fighting for.

The Bill of Rights is the cornerstone of South Africa’s democracy. In terms of the Constitution, every person has basic human rights such as:

  • Equality
    • You cannot be discriminated against.
  • Human Dignity
    • Your dignity must be respected and protected.
  • Life
    •  You have the right to life.
  • Freedom and security of the person
    • You cannot be detained without trial, tortured, or punished cruelly. Domestic violence is not allowed.
  • Human Dignity
    • Everyone has inherent dignity and has their dignity respected and protected.
  • Freedom of movement and residence
    • Everyone has a right to freedom of movement and to reside anywhere in the country.
  • Privacy
    • You cannot be searched or have your home or possessions searched.
  • Environment 
    • You have the right to a healthy environment.
  • Housing
    • The government must make sure people get access to proper housing.
  • Health care, food, water and social security
    • The government must make sure you have access to food and water; health care and social security.
  • Children
    •  Children under the age of 18 have special rights, like the right not to be abused.
  • Language and culture
    • You can use the language you want to and follow the culture that you choose.
  • Access to courts
    • You can have a legal problem decided by a court, or a similar structure.

Living in the present instead of the past

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  – Nelson Mandela

In many ways, these powerful words from our former President encompass the essence of Human Rights Day in South Africa.  While the past is relevant and should be acknowledged, it is essential to be present in the here and now and not leave anyone else in the dust on our way to the finish line.

The fight for human rights in South Africa is not just a story about the past, it is still a continuous fight for the future. It is an ode to what is possible when we come together and work towards a common goal. It is a reminder that every step towards progress, no matter how small, is worth pursuing and celebrating.

There is still much work to be done to ensure that all South Africans can enjoy their full rights. For instance, children’s rights are also human rights, because children are human beings in their own right. The Bill of Rights “enshrines the rights of all people in our country, and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality, and freedom”, while section 28 of the Constitution goes a step further, by extending specific protections to children.

Retired Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs articulates it best in the Constitutional Court decision of S v M, in saying that:

Every child has his or her own dignity. If a child is to be constitutionally imagined as an individual with a distinctive personality, and not merely as a miniature adult waiting to reach full size, he or she cannot be treated as a mere extension of his or her parents, umbilically destined to sink or swim with them. – SvM 2008 (3) SA 232 (CC), para 18.

As we celebrate Human Rights Day, we must continue to ensure that children are afforded protection and that their well-being is safeguarded in line with their rights.

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Stand with courage and speak with compassion. Together, we can break the cycle and create a world where everyone has an opportunity to enjoy their constitutional rights. Join the fight for change.

Please note that the information provided in this blog post is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice. For specific legal guidance, we encourage you to reach out to our team of experienced attorneys.

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