Opinion

A human rights and climate change manifesto for SA's elections

A people who ended apartheid can surely help build a better world in which human rights are protected and the environment safeguarded

28 April 2019 - 00:04 By KUMI NAIDOO


In less than two weeks from now, SA holds its sixth general elections since the end of apartheid. This year's elections come 25 years after the country was ushered into freedom in what were seen as the first free elections, on April 27 1994.
While much has been done to address past injustices over the last quarter century, it also seems that we have taken a few steps back. The triple burden of unemployment, poverty and inequality persists, characterising the daily lives and experiences of millions across SA.
This past week, Amnesty International, the organisation that I lead, launched its human rights manifesto for SA, calling on all parties vying to lead the country to commit that human rights will be at the heart of their policies.
In our manifesto, we have identified areas where SA, 25 years on, still struggles to meet the needs of its people.
Let's start with climate change. SA and the world are already feeling climate-related impacts that are ravaging the country. Two years ago, Cape Town nearly ran out of water owing to the lack of rain and extreme drought conditions.
In recent weeks, Durban and parts of the Eastern Cape have been hit by devastating floods, destroying people's homes and vital infrastructure. Dozens of people, including infants and children, lost their lives.
Politicians cannot feign surprise. Climate change is upon us, but candidates are spending a lot of time making old and empty promises during their election campaigns. Instead, they should be telling people exactly how they aim to protect the environment and people's rights beyond the elections.
In fact, there is no future to speak of if they don't tackle climate change. What we have seen in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe with Cyclone Idai is but a sign of a terrifying new normal. At the time of writing, people in the same region faced the imminent threat of another cataclysmic storm, Cyclone Kenneth.
The world's climate scientists have told us that to have a chance of limiting global temperature rises to below 1.5ºC by 2030, we need to have halved our emissions from 2010 levels and be adding no new emissions into the atmosphere by 2050.
We have 10 years, eight months and three days to get to that halfway point. We need our leaders to act with urgency to make every day and every action count. Because this is not just about staving off further disaster - it is about realising that another kind of world is possible.
For SA, that could mean building a truly equitable energy system that brings cheaper and cleaner energy to more people. It could mean opportunities for more jobs in new industries. And it could mean enhancing protections around people's wellbeing, which in turn could enhance vital human rights protections.On ensuring the right to health care for all, SA's constitution is explicit that "everyone has the right to have access to health-care services, including reproductive health care". Yet millions of South Africans are still denied access to health care owing to corruption and poor service delivery.SA has some of the highest rates of gender-based violence globally. Women and girls suffer targeted violence such as rape and assault. They are afraid to walk on our streets due to widespread violence that is fuelled, in part, by impunity. Yet as we have seen with the growing movement for women's rights, women across the country have shown formidable resilience and courage in demanding a more equitable future. Again, our leaders have a duty to make that a reality.When it comes to education, significant progress has been made in ensuring access to education for all. However, our education system still faces major challenges, mirroring the country's deep socioeconomic inequality as SA struggles to overcome the historic legacy of the apartheid regime.Twenty-five years after the end of apartheid, shortages of textbooks, overcrowded classrooms and mud schools still characterise the learning environment of many children, adversely affecting their full potential to be the best they can be.
Eleven years after one of the worst outbreaks of xenophobic violence, in 2008, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are still facing constant discrimination and live in fear of attacks due to long-standing criminal justice failures, as well as unacceptable hateful rhetoric from political leaders to gain votes.
On the international stage, in recent years SA has been found wanting on the foreign-policy front. The country's voice has been conspicuously absent in situations in which it would have made a difference, failing millions of people who have been caught between warring political leaders in Africa and beyond.
In June 2015, now former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, one of the longest-running fugitives from justice, accused of crimes against humanity and genocide, was allowed to enter SA to attend the African Union Summit - and then leave. This was despite warrants of arrest by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes under international law. SA actually aided Bashir to evade justice, even though its obligations were clearly communicated by the ICC in the months before his visit. SA later announced its intention to withdraw from the ICC, in effect shunning victims of human rights violations worldwide. There is still hope that the country will not follow through, and that the future government realises that SA has a role to play in ensuring justice on the international stage.
These human rights challenges are immense, but they are not impossible to overcome. Anyone with ambitions to lead SA beyond May 8 should have policies that reflect that aspiration. Because as citizens of the nation that ended apartheid, South Africans arguably know better than anyone how to imagine a better world and then fight to make it real. All future governments must continue that legacy.
• Naidoo is the secretary-general of Amnesty International. He was the launch director of Africans Rising and executive director of Greenpeace. Follow him on Twitter @KumiNaidoo.

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