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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

ANC has not lived up to its constitution – Mathews Phosa

ANC constitution architects Mathews Phosa and Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi say the party has strayed, and human rights are ignored.

Two ANC veterans who helped draft the country’s constitution believe the ruling party has lost its way in allowing basic human rights to be ignored while corruption flourishes and good governance is disregarded.

Mathews Phosa and Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi – renowned for being among architects of the country’s world-celebrated constitution, enshrining the Bill of Rights – pulled no punches when addressing thousands of delegates who thronged to the conference centre at Birchwood Hotel yesterday for the national conference on human rights.

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Ahead of Human Rights Day on Thursday, the gathering was also addressed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, former Human Rights Commission deputy chair Dr Zonke Majodina, Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza, Johannesburg bar member Tembeka Ngcukaitobi and several other legal experts – appraising SA’s 30 years of human rights.

Poor governance and corruption

Ramaphosa conceded to “shortcomings” during the 30 years of ANC governance, also calling on people “not to shy away from the immense progress we have made” and Phosa said governance characterised by high levels of corruption had set in, eroding gains earned through the advent of democracy in 1994.

Phosa continued: “Good governance and accountability are key areas currently lacking.

“When we talk about protection of human rights, there is no hierarchy or entitlement – all are equal.

“I can say without fear that South Africa’s constitution is one of the most progressive globally.

“The challenge which continues to plague me – and most of us – is that we have allowed the aspirations of the document not to live up to the paper on which it has been written…

“The paper is beautiful, with people speaking of real rights and paper rights.

“While people often reflect on money as the root of all evil in South Africa today, I say bad governance is the root of all evil.

“To be able to talk about an environment that protects human rights we need a clear dividing line between the Cabinet, National Assembly, politics and administration, with those deviating from the constitution being held to account.

“Bad governance has led to the decline of the tenets of democracy, something we see year after year, with little or without consequence management kicking in.”

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Phosa said studies had shown “young people have no faith in democracy or politicians, because we fail to deliver basic services”.

“Perhaps when MPs take an oath, they should put a sticker on their foreheads: ‘thou shall not steal’,” he said.

Asking “how do you explain it when the auditor-general says R46 billion is unaccounted for”, Phosa said: “It is money that is gone – gone to the hands of people you have put in trust.”

Phosa deplored “those among us who rubbish the judiciary”.

“Let us go and debate in parliament and rubbish one another there – where it happens, but not the judiciary.”

Fraser-Moleketi said women were “still oppressed”, with men “still superior” – in contravention of the Bill of Rights.

“At the very heart of this flagrant denial of rights are deeply held prejudices against women, going as far as portraying them as not human beings, not being offered enough opportunities.”

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More women leaders than before

On achievements made by government, Ramaphosa said: “Over the past 30 years, there have been significant changes in the position of women across society.

“Today, there are more women serving as leaders in both the public and private sectors. We have passed a broad range of laws to protect women from all forms of abuse and to advance their rights.

“These include laws around domestic violence, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and workplace discrimination.

“Human rights are the basic rights that all human beings should have. Human rights embody the key values of our society such as equality, dignity, fairness, defining our nationhood.

“Human rights should manifest themselves through protection for vulnerable groups, freedom of speech and expression, religious freedom, freedom to love and other rights that promote the well-being of people.”