On Human Rights Day 2015, the Congress of South African Trade Unions dips its banners in honour of all the martyrs of our liberation struggle, who sacrificed their live to win for us the freedom, democracy and human rights that we enjoy today.
In particular we remember the 69 people of Sharpeville, who were cruelly gunned down on 21 March 1960 as they demonstrated against the hated dompas. Their murders proved to be a turning point in our struggle to liberate South Africa from the shackles of apartheid.
This brutal act exposed to the whole world the merciless brutality of the apartheid tyranny and spurred on the building of the international anti-apartheid movement.
The dompas they were opposing was a symbol of all the oppressive laws which had robbed African people of their land and force them to become cheap labour in the white-owned mines, factories and farms or as domestic lsquoservants’.
The dompas was a result of laws passed by the National Party government elected in 1948 to formalise a system which destroyed any right for the majority population to live or work where they choose and to move freely around the country.
It is outrageous therefore that more than two decades after the dompas was scrapped and the freedom of movement was enshrined in our democratic constitution, it is being brought back in parts of the country, disguised as lsquoprofile cards’ or lsquoreen cards’.
The lsquoreen Card’ has been introduced in a wealthy residential area in Worcester by the Sector 4 Community Policing Forum to force informal workers to register with a police station and receive their card before they will be allowed into the area to work.
In Gauteng a Rural Safety Summit convened by the Gauteng Department of Community Safety, and attended by various civil society organisations, adopted a programme supposedly to improve people’s safety in rural areas, which included a call for farmers to ldquohire legal and documented workers and create profile cards to be verified at local stationsrdquo.
This lsquoprofile card’ would be nothing less than another new form of dompas, no different from the one in Worcester. COSATU demands that the Gauteng Provincial government and ANC immediately reject this new form of dompas, which is not only morally repugnant, but also unconstitutional. Clause 21 of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights is clear that ldquoevery citizen has the right to enter, to remain in and to reside anywhere in, the Republicrdquo.
This new dompas must be rejected, but at the same time it must be seen as a symptom of a wider problem which COSATU has been raising in Human Rights Day statements and more generally.
While we now have one the world’s most democratic constitutions, which guarantees fundamental human rights and has led to many progressive laws to enforce these rights, thousands of poor South Africans do not fully enjoy these rights.
This is particularly true in the area of socio-economic rights – the right to a job, freedom from poverty and a share in the country’s wealth, the right to receive healthcare, education, running water, electricity and public transport, the right to land ownership, financial services and safe neighbourhoods, freedom from crime – all of which are inseparable from other human rights, but which for millions of the poor are a distant dream.
After 21 years of political democracy, we have shocking levels of unemployment and poverty and widening inequality. If you are rich you enjoy far more rights. You have probably been getting even richer since 1994, you own a nice house you send your children to good private schools you are cared for in the best private hospitals and you have plenty of access to credit.
If however you are poor, unemployed or a low-paid casual worker, you have the legal right to all these things, but you do not actually enjoy any of them. You are most likely to be little better off or even worse off, than in 1994. Life is a constant struggle to put food on the family table, pay school fees and keep out of debt.
This widening inequality is the underlying reason for the rising number of revolts by poor communities over the slow pace of service delivery and against corruption by municipal councillors and their business friends. Meanwhile the wealthy minority barricade themselves into walled fortresses protected by electric fences, security barriers and armed guards.
The new dompas, to keep the unwanted poor people out of these enclaves, is a symbol of this inequality. What makes it even worse and potentially dangerous is that the rich minority is still mainly white, while the overwhelming majority of the poor are black. So while these new lsquoprofile cards’ are be based on class rather than race divisions like the old dompas, they will inevitably revive grim memories of it.
New labour laws have given workers greater rights to protection against unfair dismissal and discrimination, easier and faster dispute settlement procedures, and guarantees of the right to join unions and to strike, bur the lack of enforcement means that these laws are widely ignored by many employers.
The Department of Labour lacks the resources to monitor whether employers are complying with the laws and enough inspectors to enforce them when they are not complying. This, together with the continued existence of labour brokers, casualisation and greater lsquoflexibility’ and a general flouting of the rule of law continues to undermine workers ability to enjoy these rights.
Even worse, many of the most vulnerable workers suffer racist abuse, physical attacks and even murder by employers who do not understand the meaning of human rights and imagine they live in the apartheid days. Human Rights Day is especially relevant on the farms, where workers are exploited and abused, paid poverty wages, summarily evict tenants from their homes. They are also often denied the right to time off to celebrate public holidays.
In a recent case in Limpopo ZZ2 farm workers were banned from attending a hearing on the national minimum wage, which the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee had deliberately convened in a rural area so as to allow farm workers to have their say.
All these problems are especially true for women workers, who still occupy lower graded jobs in the workplace and face marginalisation, discrimination, exploitation, harassment and abuse. Equal pay for work of equal value is a human right and legally enforceable but is frequently not a reality for women workers.
Human rights are not just for South Africans but all the world’s workers and citizens, including immigrant workers and small business people who come here to escape poverty, hunger and the lack of human rights in other countries.
Many however face not only the same lack of rights, exploitation and abuse as South African workers but also suffer from xenophobic attacks from local communities, who wrongly blame, stigmatise and even attack them for supposedly causing poverty and unemployment, whereas, as COSATU has said previously:
“These workers are not the cause, but fellow-victims of a system which exploits all workers, and of employers who take aantage of vulnerable people. We must never let our class enemy divide and rule us workers’ unity is essential in the fight to end unemployment, poverty and exploitation.”
As on every public holiday – Human Rights Day, Freedom Day, Women’s Day, May Day, and especially Election Days – COSATU insists that employers give their workers time off to celebrate their historic days and enjoy their day’s holiday. These must be non-trading days, not business as usual in our shopping malls but a time to reflect on events like Sharpeville that shaped our history.
No employers, apart from those providing emergency services, must be able to open their workplaces, and even these should be paid double time or give them a day off in lieu.
COSATU reminds all working people however that the only sure way to defend human rights and democracy is to get organised in g, independent and militant trade unions. The best way to commemorate this historic day is to recruit new members into the unions and into our alliance partners, the ANC and SACP, so that we can strengthen and expand our forces to defend and extend our human rights.
Finally, on this particular Human Rights Day we must pay our respects to the two great fighters for human rights and socialism whose remain are being reburied at this time – Moses Kotane and JB Marks, whose birthday was 21 March 1903, and not forget our struggle stalwart Comrade Collins Chabane who is to be laid to rest on this Human Rights Day.
It is to such heroes that we owe our freedom and we must never forget that debt we own them and try to live up to the high standards of selfless dedication to the struggle for freedom and socialism.
Source : Congress of South African Trade Unions