Today we are commemorating Human Rights Day here in South Africa. It is a stark reminder of the tragic Sharpeville massacre in 1960. It was on that fateful day where police opened fire without warning, on a crowd of about 5000 people killing 69. The people were merely marching to the police station in protest against the demonic pass laws which dictated that Africans were compelled to carry a passbook wherever they go. If you were found without one, you were immediately put into jail. Thanks God that we are now operating under a Constitutional order that accords everyone equality before the law and protects our inalienable human rights.

We have come a long way in developing a culture of human rights in our society and restoring the dignity of our people. If truth be told in many respects, we have removed most of the barriers that inhibited our human capital development and expanding opportunities to maximise our potential. As defective as it might appear, we are operating under a multi-party democracy and have held very successful elections for almost three decades now, where the will of the people gets validated. Our Constitution has also facilitated the necessary checks and balances to protect some of the most vulnerable against rampant abuse of power by those in authority. Some of the Constitutional Court’s judgements were indeed ground-breaking in this regard.

Notwithstanding the commendable progress, we still see just too many instances of a total disregard for our people’s human rights through deliberate racist and discriminatory tendencies, serious lack of basic service delivery, gender-based violence, exploitation of farmworkers and other vulnerable sectors in our labour market, deprivation of access to economic opportunities and what is increasingly becoming a dysfunctional state. What fuels this scenario, is that we have lost our sense of humanity and our desire to pursue the common good. 

We are indeed a country with great potential and notwithstanding the ravages of our unfortunate past, we have this inherent resilience to overcome against all odds. When we read the biographies of some of our luminaries, one can’t help but to marvel at how they rose above the wilful and deliberate constraints that they were confronted with in the previous order. We are also by nature a very humane people grounded on our philosophy of Ubuntu – a shared humanity towards one another. The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu captured it so beautifully by stating “ My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”


We are all human and we need to come to terms with the reality that there will not be any ‘’ perfect” life in any human form. None of us is the full package and this necessitates a sense of interdependency. There are however certain universal values that all human beings should subscribe to in their interaction with one another. At some stage Jesus made this profound statement about the second most important commandment as recorded in Mark 12 :31 is “ Love others as well as you love yourself…” It stands to reason that if I do not have a healthy regard for myself, I will not be able to respect and appreciate others within the context of a shared humanity.

Being human in my own understanding is to act at all times sensibly; doing the right things right. It is also about a sense of awareness of what is happening in our immediate environment to another human being and not just turning a blind eye to it. Modernity has regrettably distanced us from and somehow desensitised us to the harsh realities that some of our fellow human beings are experiencing as a daily reality. It is also not just to be merely aware of it but continuously probing for appropriate responses to resolve or mitigate the situation for the better. Being human also warrants a high degree of responsibility towards myself, others, and the environment in which I find myself. I always act responsible according to acceptable norms and standards and I own up for any of my actions or inactions. But above all, being human is about being considerate. It is that understanding that others are human too and the same manner I would like to be treated, will I accord to others.

Since you are human, the temptation might be to externalise the changes that you would like to see out there in the world in which you find yourself. One of the biggest challenges that all leaders must face is how ready are you for change in your own personal life. Ron Edminson puts it this way “Often you have to change yourself before you can encourage change in others. All change starts with one step. The change you are most afraid of is possibly the one you need the most.” In terms of creating an environment where people’s dignity is upheld and their basic rights respected in your immediate sphere of influence, warrants that all of us must always be preoccupied with this question – what needs to change? It might need a change in your thoughts for any tinge of prejudice or favouritism, a change of words that might have reinforced negativity, discrimination and stereotyping but very important, a change in your actions; living out your newfound values on being human.


I want to salute those courageous men and woman of the Sharpville massacre and the thousands from our unfortunate past, who made the supreme sacrifice with their lives so that me and you can today operate under a constitutional dispensation in which our human rights are protected. May we never forget that someone paid the price for that. In my conduct and yours, let us always be mindful that we can only be human together.

The trust deficit between key sectors are widening at an alarming rate. There is serious mistrust in our political institutions, corporate culture, gender relations, financial institutions, law enforcement capability, the ailing state machinery and let me dare say even in our religious institutions. In the process our people’s human rights are at risk of being eroded. The question remains – what must I change? On this Human Rights Day my fervent desire is that all of us at both an individual and organizational capacity, recommit ourselves to narrow this trust deficit. Our humanity is bound up in one another, for we can only be human together.

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