A few moments of pain and emotion stand out in South Africa’s young democracy. One of these was an image of Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu being overcome by emotion during the highly-charged Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s where testimonies of South Africa’s difficult past – how apartheid activists went missing and how some were executed by ruthless police officers – were narrated.
Another moment was May 2008 when Mozambican national Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, who was 35 at the time, was beaten, stabbed and set alight at the Ramaphosa Informal Settlement in Ekurhuleni. The image of the hapless man on his knees as fire consumed what remained of his torso sent shockwaves around the world as he became the face of the attacks of foreign nationals in South Africa at the time.
While these moments, among others, are a cruel reminder of how racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia are a thorn in the country’s painful history, these inhumane violations of human rights still persist today.
Recently, on 28 February, Cabinet announced the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance for tabling at the United Nations.
In a statement, Cabinet said healing the divisions of the past “is a continuous process that must go hand in hand with ensuring greater economic opportunities for more people”.
This week South Africa celebrates Human Rights Day.
In an interview with SAnews, Justice and Constitutional Development Minister John Jeffery said while the newly approved plan was a milestone and paves the way for a multidisciplinary approach to dealing with these social injustices, tackling racism and racial discrimination will remain difficult for as long as poverty, inequality and unemployment still have a face.
“Remember that this is a five-year plan, which has a structure to coordinate it and it will be reviewed after those five years. So basically, it will set us on a programme as government and civil society to address issues of racism and racial discrimination.
“To make the obvious point, we are never going to resolve the problems of racism and racial discrimination and xenophobia whilst poverty, inequality and unemployment has a racial face.
“It is basically because of our history as African people, black African people; who are the majority of the unemployed; the majority of the people in poverty; the majority of the people who are less-resourced than the others…
“So, until you deal with that, one of the things you will notice from the plan is that it is accepting of the fact that land is an important issue and part of the plan is in fact addressing the issue of land because that is really at the root of racial inequality,” he said.
NAP at a glance
The process to draft, develop and approve the plan has been an intensive 18-year journey that started at the United Nation’s World Conference against Racism, which was held in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, in 2001.
The Plan has been developed through a comprehensive consultation process involving government, the Chapter Nine Institutions and civil society, and is informed by general principles of universality, interdependence and indivisibility of human rights, participation and inclusion, progressive realisation, accountability, equality and non-discrimination.
According to the final approved plan, a total of 152 submissions were received from 104 individuals and 47 from organisations, various interest groups and Chapter Nine institutions
The approved plan provides the basis for the development of a comprehensive public policy against racial discrimination and assists states in giving effect to their international human rights obligations related to the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
As part of the plan, a rapid response team, which will respond directly to government and the broader society, will be set up to serve as a barometer for measuring the extent of incidents, the circumstances which allow for their continuation and the provision of tools to address them.
According to the plan:
- The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development will, in collaboration with government departments, Chapter Nine institutions the Foundation for Human Rights and civil society working with these issues, develop a database with the names of service providers who provide assistance on these matters which will be linked to the Rapid Response Mechanism;
- The department will promote research strategies which include the investigation of the nature, causes and manifestations of racism and discrimination in both public and private spheres as well as the efficient ways of ensuring that accurate data and statistics are collected;
- The promotion of anti-racist and anti-discrimination education is a shared responsibility between government departments and the Chapter Nine institutions. The department will under the auspices of the National Action Plan promote the multi-faceted educational strategies of government departments as well as the measures adopted by them to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance;
- The department will develop and design education and training programmes in partnership with other government departments, Chapter Nine institutions as well as civil society to increase awareness of anti- racism, equality and anti-discrimination issues among public officials, civil society and the general public, mobilizing support from a wide range of experts.
The NAP is not intended to replace existing laws and policies, but rather to be complementary to existing legislation, policies and programmes which address equality, equity and discrimination.
Speaking to SAnews, Jeffery said the mechanisms that will be put in place to tackle the societal ills will start to take shape after the elections once the new administration has been appointed.
“I think we will get onto how that structure will work after the elections when we will need to see what the configuration within government is.
“First of all, the plan does outline different sectors in society that need to be involved in the fight against racism. So, it includes, for example, the media, sporting bodies among others. I think once the elections have taken place and there is a new administration in place, then whoever is coordinating it then will have to be clear or involve the different groups from the different sectors of society and to look at what should be doing what,” he said.
How the National Action Plan governance structure is envisaged to look
Jeffery said the proposed governance structure will be chaired at the highest political level by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services.
The proposed structure will comprise a Plenary, chaired by a Minister, a Programme Implementation Committee and Technical Task Teams. The secretariat of the structure will be housed in the department.
“One of the things we have raised is that there will be a reconfiguration after the elections so it doesn’t necessarily have to be the Minister of Justice, it can be a Minister convening it and then an implementation committee involving government, civil society organisations, Chapter Nine institutions and so one,” he said.
According to the plan, the implementation committee would meet quarterly throughout the year; assess the performance of role-players on the implementation of the NAP; report to Cabinet on the progress made on the overall implementation of the NAP; direct oversight of the NAP monitoring and evaluation process; respond to queries in respect of the NAP; provide guidance on the implementation of the NAP; establish technical task teams to ensure implementation and monitoring of the NAP, and ensure coordination and coherence of the work of technical task teams.
Action plan to zoom into land, socio-economic challenges to tackle discrimination
Jeffery said the for the fight against racism to be effective, issues that have been the source of inequality between the majority of the population and the minority during apartheid and even today – including the land question – will be addressed by the plan in the context of existing programmes.
For example, the plan engages national dialogues on land reform.
“Part of the plan is addressing land related issues. That would continue to be done by existing structures in government. So, the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Land Reform would be the body responsible for that.
“…There are issues under activities and outputs of engaging on national dialogues on land, the development of policy which prioritises the redistribution of vacant, unused and under-utilised state land.
“So, you are not going to have another group of people dealing with the land issue. It is more situating and addressing the land issue within a broader context in the fight against racism and racial discrimination,” he said.
Consultation process an emotional one
Jeffery said the consultations process in drafting the plan was a lengthy and, at times, an emotional one. But it was not as emotionally charged as it would have been in the past.
“…racism and racial discrimination is very fundamental so there were a large number of workshops and obviously it is an issue that does cause emotions.
“Let me also just say that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in the 1990s and it completed its work in the early 2000s. We have now got a new generation of South Africans who didn’t live through the TRC process or were too young to be conscious of it and so their understanding of what happened in apartheid is something that they have read in books, which informs where we are today.
“So, the people having a personal experience of apartheid is diminished and that also does affect people’s ability to understand what happened, to understand the divisions, the balance of power in the late 1980s and the early 1990s when we were during negotiations,” he said.
With South Africa being rated globally for the manner in which it handled the negotiations that dismantled apartheid, Jeffery said the plan now makes South Africa compliant with international treaties when it comes to the fight against racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia.
The plan aims to deal with such incidents, to avoid incidents like the 2008 xenophobic attacks from happening again.