South Africa, this year, commemorates Human Rights Month under the theme: “The year of Charlotte Maxeke: Promoting Human Rights in the Age of COVID-19”. This theme should encourage us to genuinely reflect on how South Africa has traversed the human rights timeline over the decades in its heightened attempts to decrease incidents of gender-based violence and femicide, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cabinet has declared this year as the year of Charlotte Maxeke. The late Dr Charlotte Maxeke is a stalwart whose legacy can be used symbolically to highlight the importance of equal rights in a democratic society. It is truly remarkable for a black African woman of her time to achieve all that she did in her activism towards the attainment of equal rights.
Human Rights Day is celebrated annually on 21 March. Government will mark the 2021 virtual commemorative event in the Eastern Cape province. This year, the country also marks the 25th Anniversary since the signing of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, which is praised globally for the progressive provisions contained in the Bill of Rights. Whilst all other rights may be relevant for officials, educators and parents, it is vital for us to concern ourselves about children’s rights and the right to education; a matter that has become fundamental to the delivery of quality basic education.
Historically, the adoption of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child became the first legally binding international instrument that recognises all the fundamental rights of the child. In South Africa, the Bill of Rights is arguably the component of the Constitution that has made the greatest impact on life in this country, which is central in the delivery of Constitutional Rights Education carried out through the National Schools Moot Court Programme. The Schools Act 84 of 1996, National Education Policy Act 27 of 1998 and the subsequent Education White Paper 6, were developed towards ensuring the protection of learners and building an inclusive education and training system.
One of the boldest decisions taken in the basic education sector was to ensure that learners still have access to education, protection from contracting the virus through provision of standard protective gears, as well as the continuous implementation of the National School Nutrition Programme, despite the COVID-19 lockdown limitations. This decision is supported by Section 29(1) of the Constitution stating: “Everyone has the right – (a) to a basic education, including adult basic education; and (b) to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible”.
We have incorporated The Four A’s approach that was established by the UN Special Rapporteur on Education Rights, and adopted by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights with the aim to help decipher an understanding of the rights of children towards inclusive quality education. The Four A’s are:
a. Availability (including infrastructure, teachers and textbooks);
b. Accessibility (including physical and economic access to education);
c. Acceptability (education must be of good quality); and
d. Adaptability (education must be flexible to adapt to the changing needs of learners due to changes in society).
It is the desire of the Department of Basic Education to ensure that children learn in schools that promote non-discrimination and equality, particularly gender equality. As we celebrate this Human Rights Month, let us also remember that the children of South Africa are the future of our country and it is our mandate as citizens to protect them from harm. That is why it is important for our dialogues and activities, during Human Rights Month, to place the rights of children at the centre of public discourse. We look forward to the Address by the President of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency, President Cyril Ramaphosa, which will take place on Sunday, 21 March 2021.