20 March 2019

South Africa: Cosatu Statement for Human Rights Day 2019

press release

The Congress of South African Trade Unions remembers the martyrs of our liberation struggle, in particular, the 69 people of Sharpeville, who were cruelly gunned down on 21 March 1960 as they demonstrated against the hated pass laws system. We remember and honour them for their sacrifices that won us the freedom, democracy and human rights that we enjoy.We will never forget them because their sacrifices proved to be a turning point in our struggle to liberate South Africa from the shackles of the evil regime of apartheid. While we now have one the world's most democratic constitutions, which guarantees fundamental human rights and has led to many progressive laws to enforce these rights, thousands of poor South Africans do not fully enjoy these rights.

As we celebrate Human Rights Day tomorrow, it is disconcerting that so many of our fellow compatriots are living lives of brute survival. We now know from the report released in by Statistics South Africa that more than half of the South African population live in poverty. In fact, the number of people living in extreme poverty has increased by 2,8 million, to nearly 14 million. Women, children and the elderly are the hardest hit by poverty. This reality of the deepening and widening poverty is a worrying violation of Human Rights and is a stain on our democracy that was paid for in the blood of the martyrs.

COSATU has been lamenting about the plight of South African farm workers who are amongst the most oppressed workers in the country. Not only do workers experience, extreme exploitation, they also suffer from physical and psychological abuse in the workplace. Their precarious working and living conditions can be equated to modern-day slavery, a step above the grave.

Many vulnerable workers in this country are being daily letdown by law enforcement agencies, government departments and our democratic institutions like the Human Rights Commission.

Our unemployment levels are shocking and poverty and widening inequality. Despite the fact that many new labour laws have given workers greater rights and protection against unfair dismissal and discrimination, easier and faster dispute settlement procedures, and guarantees of the right to join unions and to strike; the lack of enforcement means that these laws are widely ignored by many employers.

The most vulnerable workers still suffer racist abuse, physical attacks and even murder by employers who do not understand the meaning of human rights and imagine that apartheid is still alive.

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