A rotten government will fail to protect human rights, says Phosa

Poor governance is threatening to render South Africa’s world-acclaimed Constitution and Bill of Rights nothing but paper rights for many.

Due to poor governance, the country is “floundering in the dark” today.

Former premier and ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa made this statement at this week’s National Conference on Human Rights in South Africa, which took place at the Birchwood Hotel in Boksburg under the theme “Good governance and accountability as tools to protect human rights”.

Phosa said South Africa’s Bill of Rights was “an excellent policy document setting out a world-class framework for human rights, but with shockingly little to show around execution.

Phosa stated that South Africa had to examine the two fundamental issues of good governance and accountability.

He said: “And then, the third factor becomes appropriate, and that is an answer to the question of whether, in the last 30 years, we can boldly say that they have applied without discrimination to protect human rights for all.”

The Constitution was so unequivocal that, while recognising the injustices of the past, “we, the people of South Africa, believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it,” Phosa said.

“So, when we talk about the protection of human rights, bear in mind that there is no hierarchy of either rights or entitlements to protection. “I can say without fear of contradiction that South Africa’s Constitution is one of the most progressive globally.”

However, the ANC stalwart said: “The challenge that continues to plague me is whether we have allowed the aspiration and vision of the document to leave the paper on which it was written. You know, you’ve heard people speak of the challenge of real rights and paper rights.”

Phosa added that while people often reflected on money as the root of all evil, his view was that bad governance and corruption were, instead, the root of the evil confronting South Africa.

“To be able to talk about an environment that protects human rights, we need clear dividing lines between the cabinet and the National Assembly, competent executives in both politics and administration, a dramatic cleansing of the cancer of corruption, as well as much-improved institutions that need to hold those who deviate from the Constitution’s clear guidelines accountable.”

He said bad governance had brought about a decay of the nascent democracy, as democratic tenets continued to decline without any real consequences, adding that studies had shown that young South Africans had no faith in politics.

He cited a report from the Centre for Social Development in Africa entitled Youth Transitions in Communities in South Africa, in which youth reflected on the government’s failure to deliver basic services,.

The study highlighted crime and unemployment, a stagnating economy, non-existent service delivery, and a “corrupt and self-interested political elite”.

Phosa said: “Every one of the accusations is underpinned by a dissatisfaction with the protection of basic human rights and directly contradicts the principles of good governance and accountability. Are the sentiments isolated? Are they reflective of a small minority group of disgruntled youth? I think not.”

He asserted a mutual reinforcement between good governance and human rights, and a direct correlation between governance failures and human rights prejudices.

“Similarly, let me say that accountability for human rights is the ability to hold people who vio-late human rights accountable for their actions.”

Regarding the integration between good governance, accountability, and human rights, Phosa cited as an example the right to food in Section 27 of the Constitution, adding that according to research, South Africa was technically a food-secure nation, yet almost 30-million people – just under half the total population – went to bed not knowing where their next meal would come from.

“And in the next breath, the 2021 CSIR Technical Report on Food Losses and Waste reports that over 10-million metric tonnes of food throughout the supply chain are lost or wasted annually. What has happened to the National Food Strategy and Plan that were presented in 2002?”

He acknowledged that governance and accountability were essential tools for protecting and promoting human rights, but cautioned against their

“What I’m saying is not rocket science, but it seems we have forgotten the spirit of the Bill of Rights and the purpose enshrined in the Constitution. South Africa has lost its way on good governance and accountability and is now floundering in the dark,” said Phosa.

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