On 21 March we commemorate the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, the day 69 pass law protestors were shot dead. Many people were completely robbed of their human rights during South Africa’s apartheid years.

Human Rights Day Events in Johannesburg For 2022 - Joburg.co.za

Fast forward many years later and once again, we note other humanitarian emergencies happening around the world.

Human dignity, the right to life, freedom, and security of the person are some of the more relevant than ever human rights enshrined in Chapter 2 of The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

As former President Nelson Mandela so eloquently put it, “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”

It is important to remember the mistakes of the past so that we may correct course, remain on track, and also understand the significance of our glorious Bill of Rights as found in Chapter 2 of our Constitution.

As a nation, let’s uphold Human Rights Month this March and get to know the Chapter 2 rights that were so bravely fought for:

  1. Socio-economic rights: these are our basic human rights necessary to survive. Examples include the right to access to health care facilities as per section 27(1)(a), sufficient food as per section 27(1)(b), and access to adequate housing for everyone as per section 26(1).

Yes, the ‘access to’ means that the socio-economic right is qualified. In other words, only if the State (Government) has sufficient resources to fulfill the right. The State will make these rights available within its means depending on its budget.

There are also a few unqualified socio-economic rights such as the right to basic education as per section 29(1)(a) which has immediate enforceability. Another example is an emergency medical treatment as per section 27(3) as no one may be refused medical treatment in case of emergency.

A passage from the Soobramoney court case is often quoted in the context of socio-economic rights and it still rings true.

“We live in a society in which there are great disparities in wealth. Millions of people are living in deplorable conditions and in great poverty. There is a high level of unemployment, inadequate social security, and many do not have access to clean water or to adequate health services. These conditions already existed when the Constitution was adopted and a commitment to address them, and to transform our society into one in which there will be human dignity, freedom, and equality, lies in the heart of our new constitutional order. For as long as these conditions continue to exist that aspiration will have a hollow ring.” Soobramoney v Minister of Health KwaZulu-Natal 1998 1 SA 765 (CC), 1997 (12) BCLR 1696 (CC) para 8.

  1. Civil and political rights: these are necessary to protect our choices and freedoms such as the right to equality, human dignity, freedom, privacy, life as well the right to vote, and freedom of association.

The establishment of the independent Information Regulator and the protection of our personal data in terms of POPIA is an example of a body created with the purpose of protecting our right to privacy.

Another body created to protect all our human rights is the South African Human Rights Commission. Please report human rights violations to complaints@sahrc.org.za and seek legal advice. Note that RoadCover Clients enjoy access to a dedicated legal assist line.

From all of us at Legal Hero, trusted partner of RoadCover, we wish you and your loved one’s safety, good health, and dignity this human rights month and every month thereafter.