Human Rights’ Day reminds us of the suffering and loss of life that accompanied the most recent struggle for human rights in South Africa, but it also highlights the slavery of the Colonial era. It is why we must also ensure that modern forms of slavery such as human trafficking and forced labour are addressed and eradicated. While on the topic of labour relations, this includes labourers being forced to work overtime unpaid or over weekends without prior written or contractual agreement as per the Labour Relations Act (LRA).
This happens a lot in the Madibeng area and in specific Brits where a culture of ‘worker and baas’ still exists. Labour relations is still a very important aspect and in our country the crux of civil and human rights, alongside your democratic right to vote.
Most businesses in Madibeng do not even have the proper unemployment insurance fund (UIF) in order and most employees do not have valid contracts, or even contracts at all. When employees take their employers to the ‘wash’ legally, the employer does not have much of a foot to stand on. And our law is rather on the side of the employee. There are also workers who are forced to work under unfair and unfavourable conditions. This even includes the attitude and tone of voice whereby one is adressed at work – but keep in mind – this works both ways. Most industrial psychologists agree that you can get the best out of your staff by just speaking to them with respect and with the right motivation. This works for staff addressing their employers too.
The Brits Department of Labour and the Council for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) hearings are allegedly easily bribed and bought – apprantly ‘honourable’ commissioners also have their price. The best advice, if you can afford it, as CCMA services are free, although the Council holds the power of the High Court at the same time, is to approach the Labour Court directly – they are much tougher to bribe – especially if you appear before a full bench of Judges. It is also of note that the rights and even the constitutional rights of Madibeng, and in specific Brits workers, are infringed in terms of unfair labour practices and in terms of the minimum wage as directed by the Minister of Labour. This mostly happens in the hospitality and restaurant industries in Brits as our journalists have worked in these sectors undercover in the Brits area.
What citizens need to see is to have these scrupulous and overly capitalist employers hauled before the Labour Court, found guilty and leaving with a Judgment of 12 months for unfair dismissals, 6 months for unfair labour practices, and 24 months remuneration for automatically unfair dismissals in terms of remuneration. There should be made an example of at least one Brits corporation and the Judgment should be lambasted in every media outlet so that no other employee should ever be unfairly treated, regardless of operational requirements or the current economic climate.
Human rights are rights that everyone should have simply because they are humans, but human rights are also a product of historical and social situations. In 1948, the United Nations defined 30 articles of human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United Nations succeeded the League of Nations, and the Universal Declaration is one of its crucial platforms. It founds universal human rights on the basis of freedom, justice, and peace. South Africa supports the Universal Declaration, and we have included many of its precepts in our own Bill of Rights, Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
The articles of our Constitution can only be changed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament, which means it is difficult for anyone, including the government, to take away the basic rights of a citizen.
Just as the Constitution is our supreme law, and no laws may be passed that go against it, the Bill of Rights is the cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. The Bill of Rights also comprehensively addresses South Africa’s history of colonialism, slavery and apartheid. The Bill of Rights embeds the rights of all people in our country in an enduring affirmation of the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
Human Rights Day in South Africa is linked with 21 March 1960, and the events of Sharpeville. On that day 69 people died and 180 were wounded when police fired on a peaceful crowd that had gathered to protest against the Pass laws. It was more than a protest against the Pass Laws of the apartheid regime. It was an affirmation by common people, rising in unison to proclaim their rights, and it became an iconic date in our country’s troubled history.
In 1948 the Nationalist Party (NP) came to power in South Africa and began to formalise segregation in a succession of laws that gave the government control over the movement of Black people in urban areas. The Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952 narrowed the definition of Blacks with permanent residence in towns and cities. Legally, no Black person could leave a rural area for an urban one without a permit from the local authorities, and on arrival in an urban area, the person had to obtain a permit within 72 hours to seek work.
The Reference Book, or Pass, included a photograph, details of place of origin, employment record, tax payments, and encounters with the police. It was a criminal offence to be unable to produce a Reference Book when required to do so by the police, and Black men in particular had to carry identification with them at all times. In 1956 women of all races protested against Pass law requirements, when 20 000 women of all races marched to Pretoria.
The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) proposed an anti-Pass campaign to begin on 21 March 1960. Black men were to gather at Sharpeville without their reference books and present themselves for arrest. The order was given to disperse, after which the Police opened fire with sharp-point ammunition on the crowd of men, women and children.
Following the Sharpeville massacre, a number of black political movements were banned by the Nationalist government, and the resistance movement went underground.When the African National Congress (ANC) was democratically elected to government, with Nelson Mandela as its leader, 21 March was instituted as the South Africa Human Rights Day and included in the list of national holidays of democratic South Africa.
On Human Rights Day, South Africans are asked to reflect on their rights and how to protect themselves against violations. We wish that each and every member of the community resident in Madibeng, Brits, Hartbeespoort and surrounds experienced the joy of not just knowing their rights but excising them within the context of our beloved Constitution and the law.