Honourable Members and Colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen
Honourable Chairperson, our country is on the verge commemorating an important national day, aptly named the Human Rights Day. We will honour those who perished in the cause of an honourable Struggle for our freedom. So yes, we honour the heroes and heroines of the Sharpeville and Langa Massacres. We honour them in full knowledge that their, ‘blood did nourish the tree of freedom’ as the young revolutionary Solomon Mahlangu so poetically put it. Chairperson, because we are proud of our past and confident of our collective future as South Africans, we will also celebrate our achievements. Yes, we have much to celebrate as in April, our country finally marks 25 years of our nascent democracy. Today’s debate is celebrated under the theme, ‘Accelerated socio-economic transformation – the key to human rights and better future for all”. In the context of basic education which as we know it’s both a fundamental right for all, and an essential enabler for the achievement of other rights such as a right vote. We must be cognisance of the fact that the greatest threat to modern democracies is not, the so called, ‘axis of evil’, obnoxious/racists right-wingers and religious zealots but an uneducated populace. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘the function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.’
Chairperson, it therefore comes as no surprise that we are signatories to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being, regardless of race, religion, sex, language, political opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Article 26 of the Declaration is about the right to education: It reads:
- Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
- Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
In terms of section 29 of the 1996 Constitution, it says: ‘Everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education;  and to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.  These rights place a duty on the state to respect an individual’s right to education. It also imposes a positive obligation on the state to promote and provide education by putting in place and maintaining an education system that is responsive to the needs of the country.
Legal scholars and political pundits say the right to basic education, including adult basic education, unlike other socio-economic rights in the Bill of Rights, is neither formulated as a right of access nor subject to internal qualifiers. The right to basic education is immediately realizable, as confirmed by the Constitutional Court in the Juma Masjid Case: 
This means unlike other socio-economic rights where the state need only demonstrate that it has allocated resources rationally, the right to basic education must be prioritised regardless of the State’s other budgetary commitments.
Chairperson, we have delivered in this regard. Some 80 percent of our learners attend no fee schools. Over nine million learners receive nutritious meals every single school day. We have over 700,000 children accessing early childhood education in the last financial year. Hence we are convinced that we have established a firm foundation for a comprehensive ECD programme that is an integral part of the education system as it migrates to Basic Education. We are ready to provide two years compulsory Early Childhood Education to all learners in our country.
Over the next six years, we will provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device. We will start with those schools that have been historically most disadvantaged and are located in the poorest communities, including multigrade, multiphase, farm and rural schools. Already, 90% of textbooks in high enrolment subjects across all grades and all workbooks have been digitised.
In line with our Framework for Skills for a Changing World, we are expanding the training of both educators and learners to respond to emerging technologies including the internet of things, robotics and artificial intelligence. Several new technology subjects and specializations will be introduced, including technical mathematics and technical sciences, maritime sciences, aviation studies, mining sciences, and aquaponics amongst others. To expand participation in the technical streams, several ordinary public schools will be transformed into technical high schools.
Another critical priority is to substantially improve reading comprehension in the first years of school. This is essential in equipping children to succeed in education, in work and in life – and it is possibly the single most important factor in overcoming poverty, unemployment and inequality. In this regard, we have launched the National Reading Coalition under the aegis of the NECT.
Chairperson, as the African National Congress (ANC), since the beginning of our Struggle for freedom; it was always about the fundamental human rights for all, the oppressor included. We have never separated the yearning for equal education outside the idea of a legitimate State founded on the will of the people.
History tells us that the ANC’s President uBaba the Reverend. John Langalibalele Dube gave a public lecture in 1892 titled, ‘Upon My Native Land’. In the Lecture, he foretold that Africa [in general and South Africa in particular] will be a free, spiritual and caring continent.
Two decades later, six lawyers who were all members of the ANC such as Henry Sylvester Williams, Alfred Mangena, Richard Msimang, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Ngcubu Poswayo and George Montsioa argued severally and collectively for constitutionalism at the birth of the ANC in 1912. I am sure the DA and EFF can look this up in that beautifully narrated book titled, ‘The Land is Ours’ by Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi.
Chairperson, the book, ‘The Land is Ours’ shows that these lawyers developed the concept of a Bill of Rights, which is now an international norm. The publisher, Penguin Random House South Africa says in the blurb, ‘this book is particularly relevant in light of current calls to scrap the Constitution and its protections of individual rights.’ This book clearly demonstrates that, from the beginning, the struggle for freedom was based on the idea of the rule of law.
Chairperson, it therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise when we say, we are the midwives of this beautiful Constitution. We risked life and limb in the pursuance of the rule of law. We shall not tire in the face of peace time revolutionaries whose only mission is to steal our freedom. At the heart of this constitutionalism was the idea of human rights. At the pedestal of those rights is the right to education.
Chairperson, for posterity, it must be noted that the idea of creating a constitutional State based on universal human rights including a one man, one vote is not a product of compromise at the Multi-Party Negotiating Process (MPNP). We taught the Nationalist Party the value and purpose of a constitutional democracy.
As early as 1917, Comrade Sefako Mapogo Makgatho was elected 2nd President of the ANC, and he called for the creation of a non-racial society in South Africa. He, together with his comrades promulgated the 1st Constitution which defined the ANC as a Pan African Organisation.
As early as before the 1920s, ANC stalwart and Isitwalandwe Charlotte Manye Maxeke was already at the forefront fighting for women’s rights.
Later in 1919, Comrade Maxeke helped that finest revolutionary Clements Kadalie to form the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU), to fight for workers’ rights. By 1930s, it was firmly established that in fact women’s rights are indeed human rights.
In 1921 the Reverend Zaccheus Richard Mahabane lamented in his speech, ‘We Are Not Political Children’ that Africans were degraded and dehumanised and rendered landless, vote less, homeless, and hopeless (i.e denied basic human rights). He foretold that the recovery of the African humanity (Ubuntu/Botho) and its inherent values of freedom, equality and justice for all will be the only basis for peace and development. He will be happy to know that we shall indeed reclaim our land. The Land is Ours.
By 1943 the ANC issued the African Claims, a Bill of Rights which amplified its 1923 original draft and reinforced the idea of self-determination and socio-economic rights, i.e second generation of human rights. So we taught the Freedom Front Plus and AfriForum the idea of self-determination.
In 1949, a new generation of revolutionaries took centre stage as the ANC Youth League adopted the Programme of Action which included demands such an inalienable right to the land, right of self-determination and human rights.
In 1954 women from the broad spectrum including the ANC adopted Women Charter. This was a precursor to the historic 1956 women march to Union Building.
Chairperson, it was only in 1955 at the Congress of the People that the Struggle entered an irreversible gear as all people of this country; both black and white adopted the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter is notable for its demand for and commitment to a non-racial South Africa, this remains the platform of the ANC. The Charter also calls for democracy and human rights, land reform, free education labour rights, and nationalisation. The 1996 Constitution is predicated on the text of the Freedom Charter. Our forebears will be happy to know that we will nationalise the Reserve Bank but keep its mandate unchanged as demanded by the Constitution.
In the years, between 1990–1992, the ANC Constitutional Committee under the late Dr Zola Skweyiya studies bills of human rights in Africa and abroad and ANC’s produces blueprint, Ready to Govern. As they say, the rest is history.
In conclusion, Chairperson, I want to reinforce the historical truth that we are the midwives of this beautiful Constitution. We risked life and limb in the pursuance of the rule of law. We shall not tire in the face of peace time revolutionaries whose only mission is to steal our freedom. At the heart of this constitutionalism was the idea of human rights. At the pedestal of those rights is the right to education.
I thank you.