Pearls of Wisdom from Commissioner of the South African Human Rights Commission Advocate Mohamed Shafie Ameermia
- What does the role of the South African Human Rights Commission entail?
The South African Human Rights Commission is a Chapter 9 institution established in terms of the Constitution and is mandated to ensure the protection, promotion and monitoring and advancing human rights in South Africa.
- Why is it important for South Africans to understand the role of all Chapter 9 institutions and how can they better utilise these institutions?
South Africa is a constitutional democracy, founded on the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law. Our founding fathers and mothers realized that there was a need to create Chapter 9 institutions such as the South Africa Human Rights Commission, the Public Protector amongst others, to serve as watchdogs to protect the rights enshrined in the Constitution and ensure that the Constitution reigns supreme.
Given the fact that Chapter 9 institutions are watchdog bodies which protect human rights and monitor the observance of human rights violations, it is important for these institutions to undertake educational programmes geared towards educating society at large about the work that they do.
- Why are human rights such a vital part in the development of our democracy to transform societies?
In cognisance of our country’s painful past which was riddled with egregious human rights abuses, the drafters of the Constitution realised the need for the creation of a constitutional democracy founded on the rule of law, based on the values of social justice and fundamental human rights. Thus, human rights are important in our epoch and must be used as a transformative tool in the quest for a just and democratic society and reaffirm our human dignity.
- How can the Private Sector, Government, Labour, Civil Society and Citizens collaborate better in the protection of human rights?
Private Sector, Government, Labour, Civil Society and Citizens must vigorously engage the fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and create an active citizenry and take ownership of the challenges prevalent in society finding sustainable solutions.
- How do you see the role of NGOs, like Kagiso, adapting to serve in the socioeconomic development of South Africa?
The advent of democracy did not become a magic wand that automatically erased the social injustices wrought by apartheid. The effects of the harsh realities of the damage done by apartheid continue to be felt in this country to date. Therefore, non-governmental organisations such as Kagiso who as far back as 1985 had the vision to create an egalitarian society for a post democratic order, still have a greater role to play today. They can do this by strategically using their investments expertise and skills to uplift society from the hovels of poverty and deprivation. However, to ensure maximum strategic impact, they must join hands with like-minded civil society organisations in creating sustainable projects that are intensively educationally driven to address the socio-economic realities on the ground.
- What would you say are the main human rights challenges of our time?
The main human rights challenges of our time are primarily socio-economic in nature coupled with the right to development. They relate to challenges pertaining to the right to health care, food, job security, education and housing. The harsh reality is that most members of our society continue to live in deplorable living conditions and under the shackles of poverty. Thus, the lives of everyone have to be developed and transformed if we are to ensure that our new constitutional order does not have a hollow ring.
- What message do you have for Kagiso Trust as they celebrate their 30th anniversary?
As Kagiso Trust celebrates 30 years of its existence it should not rest on its laurels as the country is beset by the tipple threat of poverty, inequality, and unemployment. Rather, it should put shoulders and expertise to the wheel so as to ensure that the Constitution’s promise of dignity and equality for all does not remain a distant dream.