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Human Rights Day: What are my rights as a South African citizen?

Whether you’re around the braai, heading to the beach, or unfortunately stuck in the office, here’s hoping your Human Rights Day is as enjoyable as possible.

But have you ever stopped and asked yourself what your human rights actually are in South Africa? Sure, we know we have one of the most progressive, modern constitutions in the world. So what does that guarantee us?

This public holiday gives us all a chance to reflect on the fight for democracy, and those who lost their lives sticking it to apartheid. Thanks to those brave souls, we have a set of rights designed to protect our dignitiy and humanity.

What are my Human Rights?

These are all the basic things South Africans should be entitled to. They are enshrined by our Bill of Rights. Being denied any of the following by authority or circumstance can be considered a violation of your human rights:

  • All persons have a right to citizenship and security.
  • Persons and groups are entitled to freedom of assembly, association, belief and opinion, and expression: You have the right to demonstrate, picket and petition.
  • Everyone has the right to be free from forced labour, servitude and slavery.
  • All persons have a right to privacy and to exercise political rights.
  • All have a right to access to information and just administration action.
  • Everyone has rights when they are arrested, detained and accused, and must have access to courts.
  • All have a right to freedom of movement and residence and of trade, occupation and profession.
  • In the workplace, everyone has a right to engage in trade unions and labour movements.
  • Anyone has the right to purchase property anywhere.
  • Everyone has the right to a basic education.
  • We all have a right to language and culture and communities;
  • Everyone has the freedom of religion and belief.

Who does the Bill of Rights protect?

The Bill of Rights also protects the rights of our religions and communities that have a cultural or linguistic identity.

Women and children are also protected by more specific laws, designed to ensure their safety in Mzansi. Their basic human rights stretch to having a healthy living environment, access to health care, food and water, and they must all have have rights to social security (government support, should they need it).

What does the South African constitution say about equality?

South Africa’s set of human rights are hailed as incredibly progressive, given that our constitution is one of the youngest – and therefore, most accepting of modern life – on the planet.

Our constitution is famously the first to openly protect the rights of the LGBT community. It also offers protection from racial discrimination and religious hatred:

“The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.”

Human Rights Day should be celebrated

The Bill of Rights can’t guarantee our safety 100% of the time. There’s also an overwhelming amount of citizens who are born without many of those basic rights, due to their environment, financial status, and the legacy of apartheid.

A lot of things need to be fixed in South Africa. But it should be a source of pride that our human rights laws aren’t on that list. Here’s hoping with every Human Rights Day, we move further away from the shadows cast by our turbulent history.

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