Government has reaffirmed its pledge and determination to strive to ensure that all people exercise human rights to their fullest.
"Today is a day on which we celebrate the great progress we have made as a nation in building a democracy that is founded on equal human rights for all people.
"It is also a day on which we look to the future. We reaffirm our pledge not only to safeguard and uphold these rights at all times, but to strive to ensure that all people may exercise these rights to their fullest," President Ramaphosa said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa was delivering a keynote address at the 2023 Human Rights commemorations held in De Aar, Northern Cape, on Tuesday.
The President shared that Human Rights Day also marks a day on which South Africa remembers and pays tribute to the many people who fought for these rights and for the great sacrifices that they made.
Bill of Rights
According to the President, this year marks 100 years of the first Bill of Rights, making the 2023 Human Rights Day very significant for South Africa.
The Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy which enshrines the rights of all the people in the country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
Reflecting on the past, the President highlighted that the adoption of the bill of rights, which had no legal standing at the time, took place just a decade after the Native Land Act had resulted in the mass dispossession of Africans of their land.
He said that it took place 13 years after the Union of South Africa confirmed that black South Africans would have no say in the running of their country.
"Today, as we mark Human Rights Day, we pay tribute to those men and women who had the foresight to proclaim that all people in this country have inalienable human rights."
The theme for Human Rights Day this year is: 'Consolidating and Sustaining Human Rights Culture into the Future'.
"As we look to the future, let us reflect on the past. As we learn the lessons of the past, let us work together to confront its devastating legacy," said the President.
The President told scores of people who attended the commemorations that one of the defining features of the Bill of Rights contained in the Constitution is the inclusion of social and economic rights.
In addition to the right to life, equality and human dignity, the Constitution also says that everyone has the right to housing, health care, food, water, social security and education.
He said that since the advent of democracy, successive administrations have done much to ensure the progressive realisation of these rights for all South Africans.
President Ramaphosa said that the expanding provision of basic services to households has been one of the most important interventions to improve the lives of all South Africans.
According to Statistics South Africa, access to water and sanitation, electricity, housing and other services like waste removal has increased steadily over the last three decades.
Around two million indigent households receive free basic water, free basic electricity and free solid waste removal.
Yet, despite this progress, the president acknowledged that there are still many people who do not have access to all of these services. He added that many people live in informal settlements without adequate housing, water or sanitation.
The President highlighted several significant interventions against poverty by government including the provision of social grants, which are the main source of income for about a quarter of households.
Just over 2.5 million people were receiving social grants in 1999. Today, over 18 million people are receiving these grants, the President said.
"To relieve the pressure on poor households during COVID-19, government introduced the special R350 SRD grant. While this grant has been extended to the end of March 2024, work is underway to provide basic income support for the most vulnerable within the country's fiscal constraints," he said.
National Health Insurance Bill
The President further highlighted more interventions, which included the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill meant to correct this state of affairs. The bill is currently before Parliament.
He said that the introduction of the National Health Insurance - or NHI - will enable every South African to receive quality health care regardless of their ability to pay.
"We are preparing for the implementation of the NHI through the national quality improvement plan and putting in place the necessary staff and funding. We are improving the quality of care in our clinics through the Ideal Clinic programme. Using the experience of the COVID vaccination record system, we will introduce an electronic solution to improve management of health records," the President said.
Growing the economy
"If we are to advance and secure these social and economic rights into the future then we need to tackle poverty and inequality. We need to create employment and economic opportunity.
"To achieve this, to give us the means to enable the progressive realisation of all these rights, we need to grow our economy and achieve far greater levels of investment."
He said the work that is being undertaken to increase investment in both economic and social infrastructure is a vital part of the effort to improve the provision of services to all South Africans.
This includes investment in roads and rural bridges, in new housing settlements, in water schemes and in expanding the country's electricity network.