Address by the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Honourable Dr Zweli Mkhize, at the Eastern Cape Provincial Human Rights Day Celebrations, Kwa-Rhayi Village, King Williamâ€™s Town
18 March 2018
Programme Director, MEC Pemmy Majodina
Honourable Premier of the Eastern Cape Province
MEC Qoboshiyane and all Members of the Executive Council
Members of the Provincial Legislature
African National Congress leaders and all other political parties representatives
Religious and Traditional Leaders in our midst
Members of the Mxenge Family
Fellow South Africans
Good Day, Molweni,
We meet three days before the national celebration of an important day in our national calendar, Human Rights Day, in which we affirm our commitment to human rights for all our people.
We are observing Human Rights Day to remind our people of the painful experience that gave birth to this Human Rights Day and to celebrate our deeply entrenched constitutional human rights culture that we have in our country today.
Our country has in the past few weeks gone through momentous changes. There had been a lot of tensions and uncertainty but it is clear that all South Africans have embraced the change emanating from the ANC conference.
Speculation had been rife that the ANC would split. Avoiding the split in the ANC has served the country well and is an excellent tribute to the martyrs of freedom who laid down their lives for a free, united, democratic and prosperous South Africa.
The change that has come about has generated a lot of hope amongst South Africans. All our people have embraced the change and have also renewed the hope and vision that President Nelson Mandela embodied, and given us hope that the South Africa we all dream about can be achieved.
Our country has embrace a new spirit of optimism since the ANC 54th conference of the ANC, the change in ruling party leadership has been positive. This has further resulted in changes in the leadership of the country as President Zuma stepped down and President Ramaphosa taking the helm of the leadership of the country.
Clearly the feelings and concerns of our people have been heard and changes have been introduced to ensure certainty and set the country aflame with new energy and hope. This has been well articulated by our President Ramaphosa who in the words of our icon and musical legend Hugh Masekela, he made the call : â€œTHUMA MINA â€œ This is a call to service, selfless service to humanity, serving with humility, serving honestly, sacrificing self interest to serve our people. We must in the spirit of Griffiths and Nonyamezelo Mxenge all be ready to make the sacrifice and be ready to serve honestly and diligently.
We owe it to the martyrs who laid down their lives for freedom to take forward the struggle of building the South Africa they dreamed about and fought for.
Many people lost their lives in the struggle for freedom and ironically many lost their lives while participating in peaceful demonstrations such as that historic march against passes in Sharpeville on 21 March in 1960. On that day, police opened fire, killing 69 and wounding 180 black South Africans.
Many were also brutally killed in Langa in Cape Town on the same day, while 28 people were killed in Langa, Uitenhage in March 1985, during the 25th anniversary commemorations of Sharpeville.
On Human Rights Month we also remember and pay tribute to those compatriots who perished in many other apartheid massacres â€“ in Matola, Shobashobane, kwaMakhutha, Soweto, Trustfeed, Boipatong and many other parts of the country. They died fighting a selfless struggle, to bring about a truly free, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.
I also greet you in the name of freedom fighters from this province, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Raymond Mhlaba, Govan Mbeki, Chris Hani, Robert Sobukwe, Steve Biko and a host of others.
Importantly, I greet you in the name of Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge, two illustrious and selfless freedom fighters who laid down their lives in the struggle to achieve the free South Africa that we live in today.
On Human Rights Day we recall and promote all the rights that are enshrined in Chapter Two of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, which emphasises respects, protection and promotion of human rights, including the rights to life, to peaceful demonstration and to freedom from violence. The Constitution was signed into law by President Nelson Mandela whose centenary we are celebrating this year, 2018. His sound leadership and indomitable spirit inspired the nation and the world into action. His leadership and guidance contributed immensely to building a South Africa that is anchored on human rights.
It is also befitting that we are also celebrating the life of another icon, Mama Albertina Sisulu whose actions and work inspired many across the world to recognise the plight of black people who were stripped of their dignity by the apartheid regime.
Today we specifically remember the commitment, dedication and selflessness of Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge.
Driven by the love they had for fellow South Africans, they opened their home and worked tirelessly defending the poor and the vulnerable, especially those whose human rights were trampled upon by the apartheid regime. They paid the ultimate price for defending the rights of oppressed South Africans and for fighting for freedom.
Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge lived the principles that the founding father of our democracy President Nelson Mandela, tried to instil in all of us, especially unity and selflessness. Their selfless attitude, even in the face of great calamity should inspire us today as we continue the struggle against the triple challenges facing our people, poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Born in 1935 in King William’s Town, here in the Eastern Cape, Griffiths Mlungisi Mxenge joined the African National Congress (ANC) during the 1950’s. He studied Law at Fort Hare University where he obtained a BA degree and then studied further obtaining an LLB at the then University of Natal. He opened his law practice and became a well-respected human rights lawyer who fearlessly defended victims of apartheid despite being harassed, detained and banned on many occasions.
Griffiths Mxenge walked the path that many freedom fighters were forced to take, suffering an injustice at the hands of the police and also being imprisoned on Robben Island for his political activities. Mama Victoria Mxenge was a qualified as a nurse and later studied a law and obtained a degree and joined her husband Griffiths at his law firm as a human rights lawyer as well.
Following her husband’s assassination in 1981, she was not deterred and kept the practice running and played a more prominent role as a human rights lawyer and a political activist. She defended the victims of the apartheid and was a fierce opponent of state brutality, thus providing hope for many who went through trials and tribulations at the hands of a barbaric apartheid system.
She became a member of the Natal Organisation for Women, an affiliate of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and she was fully involved in the mass mobilisation of our people and addressed political gatherings.
The killers of Baba Griffiths Mxenge, apartheid era policemen, were granted amnesty in 1996 by the Amnesty Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Their confessions which are in TRC records, are a chilling account of a state that had lost its way, that had forsaken the rule of law and justice in favour of brutality, terror and murder against its political adversaries.
After the brutal murder of her husband, Mama Victoria displayed remarkable courage and dedication not only in her law practice but also in the cause for equality freedom and democracy.
She shouldered on with the law practice with amazing fortitude whilst fending for their two sons, Mbasa and Viwe and daughter Namhla who were 15, 10 and 6 when their father he died. Her practice too reflected her political and social activism. We acknowledge the sacrifice of their children who hardly saw their parents, as they dedicated their lives to the higher cause that was the freedom of the people of South Africa.
Mama Victoria often intervened to protect youth ill-treated in detention. She played an increasingly prominent role in the struggle for liberation. She started a bursary fund in memory of her husband. She became a member of the Release Nelson Mandela Committee, the National Organization of Women and the Natal Treasurer of the United Democratic Front (UDF).
In July 1985 she was invited to speak at the funeral of the heroic Cradock 4 – Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli attended by approximately fifty thousand mourners. Despite the rampant assassination of activists, she was not deterred.
Within days of the funeral speech, on 1 August 1985, Mrs Mxenge was attacked by four men in the driveway of her home in Umlazi, Durban and murdered in front of her minor children. The Truth and Reconciliation Report on the assassination of Victoria Mxenge records that one Marvin Sefako (alias Bongi Raymond Malinga) was allegedly recruited by the security branch and he had killed mama Victoria Mxenge. He cowardly killed a defenceless mother whose only crime was to fight for the freedom of Malinga himself.
When the commemoration of Victoria Mxenge was hosted in Umlazi Cinema hall changed KwaZulu Natal It spread through the province and throughout the eighties to nineties.
The regime thought that by killing the freedom fighters like Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge, they would be able to stop the struggle that was waged by the oppressed black majority who had lost everything including their dignity. Instead, the slaughter of innocent black South Africans gave rise to increased resistance, rolling mass actions and many other forms of protests, that finally brought the regime to its knees.
As we fondly remember our martyrs today we also recall that the struggle is not complete as the struggle for economic freedom is still being waged. Central to this struggle is the question of land. The 54th national conference of the ANC took a landmark resolution to expropriate land without compensation. This decision has now been endorsed by our Parliament and this has been a major milestone in the journey of our democratic nation.
Government remains fully committed to attending to this question which is fundamental to our freedom as a people. In the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs we are looking at ways of partnering with sister departments responsible for agriculture and land reform to ensure that land is used productively to ensure food security for our people in our municipalities and villages. We are keen to see each family having a food garden and living off the land. The call for an agrarian revolution must thus become real and our people must live off the land. We call on all South Africans get involved in the process of broad consultation that parliament will undertake on the land question.
Compatriots, with our constitution guaranteeing Human Rights for all South Africans, it is of concern that our communities are still complaining about poor service delivery. The core services that the municipalities provide such as clean drinking water, sanitation, electricity, shelter, waste removal and roads, are essential components of the right to dignity enshrined in our constitution and the bill of rights.
These rights include freedom to worship â€¦..whatever your faith or denomination you are protected But this freedom must not be abused to exploit trusting honest citizens such as the Engcobo incidents, fumigation of congregants, sexual abuses that have been reported and forcing people to eat rodents and reptiles and other criminal activities reported.
I have received briefing of horrifying actions in the name of the church from the Commission of Cultural Religious and Linguistic Communities.
At the moment, having been deployed in the area of cooperative governance, we have become even more aware of the concerns people have in relation to the commitment to service delivery. We would like to urge all our public representatives to always think of our martyrs as they go about doing their work of providing services to the people.
As our public representatives at all levels work, we need to remember that we represent those struggles and sentiments for which our people laid down their lives. Public representatives must make an impact in the improvement of the lives of our people.
This means that together we must fight maladministration, where resources meant for the poor are mismanaged due to ill-advised decisions leading to negative audit outcomes. We must work together to fight fraud, corruption and greed that manifest in the dysfunctional municipalities and departments that do not operate at their optimum levels. We need to closely investigate how these factors impact on the conflicts that we often observe among public representatives who are meant to serve together, where conflicts and tensions begin to manifest in different municipalities and layers of government. We need to investigate thoroughly to see if the irregularities may have been precipitating the deaths of councillors in some municipalities. All these matters need scrutiny as they impact on the delivery of services to our people.
I met with MECs responsible for local government and traditional affairs in Pretoria on Friday and we agreed that we need to do things differently in order to change the face of local government and make it perform better.
We know that our people are concerned about lack of or poor supply of water and electricity. They are concerned about poor billing systems and bad customer care when they go and raise these issues with municipalities.
They want to live in communities with decent roads with no potholes and access roads in rural areas which ensure that they do not walk long distances from the bus or taxi drop off point to their homes carrying groceries.
They want to live in communities where refuse is collected, where there are beautiful trees and where alien vegetation is cut. They want to live in communities where there are recreational parks for children to play and where there is security. To turn the situation around in Municipalities, government working with all stakeholders to implement the agreed on the Back-to-Basics programme.
We are currently engaging stakeholders with a view to finding solutions and creating municipalities that can function well and serve our people.
We will also be engaging our traditional leaders as they have a critical role to play in improving service delivery in rural areas and traditional communities. We believe that it is possible to fix local government. If we work together, we will find solutions.
Serving our people better and ensuring that we deliver on the mandate we have been given by the electorate is the only way we can truly celebrate the life, times and the heroic struggles of both Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge, the true servants of the people.
We need to all embrace the change and move on as a country. No country can linger on in uncertainty and negativity forever. We need to unite and face the challenges confronting our nation as a united people and find solutions together.
We call on all civil society â€“ the faith-based organisations, traditional leaders and community based organisations to work with government and not miss opportunity to hold government accountable for decisions made. It is the vigilance by our people which will ensure that government performs as elected. We must not allow a gap between us that will make our government and leaders in all spheres be it ministers, MECs or councillors accountable for outcomes that must be delivered.
There must be an improvement in the lives of the people. We must be build a compassionate society where women and girls feel safe from violence and abuse, a society where we care for the aged and vulnerable, and we need to work together to achieve those goals.
Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge were correctly honoured by the South African government with the Order of Luthuli in silver for their contribution to the field of law and the countless sacrifices they made in the fight against apartheid and oppression.
We honour our two national heroes as formidable defenders of the peopleâ€™s rights and as fierce and brave freedom fighters even when the odds were against them and when they found themselves in the eye of the storm that was an apartheid machinery.
Today we call on all those who serve our people at various points, to respect and take our democracy seriously. They should emulate the Mxenges who in the face of danger, remained resolute to serve and protect the vulnerable and those abused by the brutal apartheid regime.
As we remember the Mxenges, we should endeavour to do more in changing the lives of our people, delivering basic services, fighting poverty, inequality and eradicating the scourge of racism.
I am pleased that amongst the invited guests are tha associations of lawyers NADEL, SALWLA, Lawyers for Human Rights and other formations. The government has a responsibility to change the briefing patterns to give more legal brief to black legal practitioners. More needs to be done to support and promote women to ascend to the Bench. For the leading barristers and the human right advocates that Grifiths and Victoria were they would have been amongst the first to fill the judicial offices of a democratic South Africa. No one better than them deserved the honour of such a prestigious office to serve as the advocates of the human rights that we enjoy today. Women in legal profession must have courage and rise in the spirit of Victoria Mxenge to ensure the strong presence of women in the judiciary and make their presence felt in the entire profession.
Compatriots, let us together recommit to build better, secure and habitable communities and continue to promote and uphold the human rights of all.
Let us recommit ourselves to the building of a compassionate and caring South Africa in the memory of Nelson Mandela, Walter and Albertina Sisulu, Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge.
I Thank You.