President Jacob Zuma has paid tribute to South Africa’s national heroes who fought for the country’s liberation during the Human Rights Day celebrations, on Tuesday.
Speaking in King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape where this year’s Human Rights Day was commemorated, President Zuma heaped praise on anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko and stalwart Oliver Tambo, among others, who he described as selfless leaders who fought for the human rights and dignity of all South Africans.
Other speakers at the event included Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa as well as Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle.
This year marks 40 years since Biko died while in detention in police cells in Pretoria in 1977. Tambo would have been 100 years this year, had he lived. He died in 1993 on the eve of South Africa’s free democratic elections. The theme of Human Rights Day this year is: “The year of OR Tambo: Unity in Action in Advancing Human Rights”.
“The marking of this day was born out of huge sacrifices made by brave men and women who fought for freedom in the face of extreme brutality by the apartheid regime,” President Zuma told thousands of people who braved the scorching sun to be part of the day’s event.
“Our country now enjoys a stable constitutional democracy where everyone is entitled to equal human rights because of the sacrifices of the people of Sharpeville, Langa, Soweto, KwaMashu, Tzaneen, Zeerust, Giyani and many other parts of our country,” said President Zuma.Laying wreaths at Biko’s grave
Earlier in the day, the President, accompanied by his Deputy Cyril Ramaphosa visited the Steve Biko Garden of Remembrance where President Zuma laid wreaths at Biko’s grave.
In an emotional ceremony, President Zuma, joined by Nontsikelelo Biko, the widow of Steve Biko unveiled and handed over the Biko monument to the family. The handover marks the launch of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Black Consciousness Movement leader’s death.
President Zuma also announced that in September, the month of Biko’s tragic death, government will join the family, AZAPO and the Black Consciousness Movement in commemorating his life and contribution to South Africa’s liberation.
“We must come together to celebrate our national heroes and ensure that our youth and future generations know and understand their contribution and what they stood for. In the memory of Steve Biko, let us promote the emancipation of the mind.
“He wanted black people to understand that they are equals with other racial groups, and that they were equally deserving of dignity, respect, equality and a better life.”
Biko believed that only when black people understood that they were not inferior, and the white people understood and accepted that they are not superior, would true liberation be achieved in our country,” said President Zuma.
He reminded South Africans that the country comes from a history where there was a scant regard for fundamental human rights. It was therefore most fitting that the nation should pause annually, and remember the past so as to learn from it and never repeat its wrongs.
Progress in the promotion of human rights
“We also use this day to take stock of progress in the promotion of human rights. Today we also recommit ourselves to advance fundamental human rights and the restoration of human dignity to the black people in particular, who were brutalised and dehumanised by the twin systems of colonialism and apartheid.
“We are pleased with the progress we have made thus far in advancing human rights. Our country’s Constitution enshrines socio-economic rights such as health education, food, water and social security. We have made progress in these areas.”
Government had created the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure delivery Initiative to replace mud schools and other inappropriate structures and to provide basic services of sanitation, water and electricity.
The question was no longer why there are mud schools in the country, but how far government has gone in eradicating them.
“Through the programme, we have completed one hundred and seventy schools. To restore the dignity of our learners, government has provided water to six hundred and fifteen schools, decent sanitation to four hundred and twenty five schools and electricity to three hundred and seven schools. We also care about the wellbeing of children in our schools.”
President Zuma noted that nine million children receive meals through the National School Nutrition Programme and also do not pay school fees. The feeding scheme also provides an income for mothers who cook the meals daily at schools, while government buys vegetables from women-owned cooperatives in most communities. This programme thus fights hunger and contributes to community development.
“Another key achievement of government that we are proud of, is the growth of the Early Childhood Development Programme. We are investing in these ECD centres of crèches as they are commonly known, to ensure that even children of the poor and the working class have a good start in education.”
More money was being allocated to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme each year to support youth from poor and working class backgrounds. This year the budget is R15.2 billion, which is higher than ever before.