The EFF have called for a national shutdown on Monday. (Photo by Xabiso Mkhabela/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday took a swipe at the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) over what he called its attempts to coerce South Africans into participating in protests against his leadership the previous day, calling it an abuse of their human rights.
Ramaphosa was speaking at an event in the Northern Cape to mark Human Rights Day, a day after the EFF led a “national shutdown” in protest against rolling power cuts and to press for the president’s resignation.
EFF leader Julius Malema has pronounced Monday’s protest a success but the government maintains it was a flop, saying most businesses had opened in defiance of the party’s call to remain shut and that those which did stay closed only did so to enjoy a “long weekend”, culminating in Human Rights Day.
On Tuesday, Ramaphosa said the day was one “in which we celebrate the great progress that we have made as a people and as a nation, in building a democracy that is founded on equal human rights for all”.
“Even though others would want to diminish this democracy, even though others would want to abuse the rights of others, intimidate them, compel them to participate in protests, compel them to participate in days when they should not go to work, I am happy that the majority of South Africans did not heed the call,” he added, in a clear reference to Monday.
Human Rights Day is observed in honour of the 69 people who were killed and 180 who were wounded in Sharpeville on 21 March 1960, when apartheid police opened fire on a peaceful crowd protesting against pass laws which discriminated against blacks.
“We cannot claim to be a country that respects human rights if we do not do everything in our power and within our resources to ensure that all South Africans have access to land, housing, food, water, healthcare and education,” said Ramaphosa, whose ANC has been criticised of not doing enough to better the lives of black people in nearly 30 years of post-apartheid rule.
He noted that this year’s commemoration was significant because it was the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the first bill of rights in South Africa’s history.
“This was an act of remarkable vision at a time when the majority of South Africans were by law denied the most basic of human rights. The adoption of this bill of rights, which had no legal standing at the time, took place just a decade after the Native Land Act [of 1913] had resulted in the mass dispossession of Africans of their land,” he said.
The 1923 bill of rights declared: “That all Africans have, as the sons of this soil, the God-given right to unrestricted ownership of the land in this, the land of their birth.”
Ramaphosa said the people who wrote this 100 years ago would be pleased to see that the current bill of rights recognises “the right to property” and “equitable access to land”, as well as socio-economic rights, such as housing, healthcare, food, water and education.
“The bill of rights says everyone has the right to basic education and to further education, which the state must make progressively available and accessible,” Ramaphosa said, while acknowledging that many students still faced financial constraints to pursuing higher education, as highlighted by recent protests at universities.
He said although the number of students from poor and working-class backgrounds receiving funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme had increased, “we saw in the last few weeks many students are still experiencing difficulties in funding their studies, accommodation and living expenses”.
“This year, the government plans to finalise the comprehensive student funding model for higher education,” Ramaphosa added.