About 1500 people braved incessant rain on Tuesday to gather at the
Makhulong stadium in Tembisa, east of Johannesburg, to commemorate
Human Rights Day.
Drawn by the promise of hearing popular South African Kwaito acts,
Arthur and Aba Shante, the day started off slowly.
By late morning only a few hundred had pitched to watch local team
Classic FC play a celebrity side in a friendly soccer match.
Among the dignitaries who addressed the gathering were notable
proponents of human rights like Louis Asmal, wife of Education
Minister Kader Asmal, who is chairman of the European Union funded
Foundation for Human Rights.
The foundation organised Tuesday's commemoration together with the
Human Rights Commission, the Public Protector and the Commission on
Gender Equality, in partnership with Rights Africa.
Louise Asmal told Sapa that although inroads had been made into
educating society about their rights, there was still a "huge way"
to go before every person understood what they meant.
"There are a great number of people who know nothing about their
socio-economic rights and what they can push for," she said.
Asmal praised the European Union for promoting human rights in SA,
and urged the Mbeki administration to become more involved.
Other speakers included Public Protector Selby Baqwa, South African
Human Rights Commission chairman Dr Barney Pityana and chairwoman
of the Commission on Gender Equality Joyce Pilisi-Seroke.
Baqwa told Sapa the essence of the day was to "inculcate" a culture
of human rights.
He said although South Africa had managed to overcome its past
which was one of "zero human rights" there would always be a need
for such awareness campaigns.
Even in democracies, he said, structures such as the public
protector, were essential.
"We are never going to eliminate it (the violation of human rights)
but we can minimise it," he said.
By the time speakers had completed their addresses, the crowd had
swelled to fill the stadium, many attracted more by the lively
entertainment on offer than the human rights message.
SA Prisoners' Organisation for Human Rights spokesman, Otis Finck,
said the day was a step in the right direction.
"Its a good thing and we are able to come down to the grass roots.
It's not only about T-shirts, but what happens after this. Will
they go away with something?" asked SA Prisoners' Organisation for
Human Rights spokesman Otis Finck.
"There's still a lot to be done in making people realise their
rights," he added.
Wirba Alidu Yongye from Cameroon, who is in the country to help
promote the Bahai Faith - an independent world religion, said it
was a "big achievement" to have a public holiday in recognition of
"In most African countries they don't have a public holiday
declared for human rights...it's a privilege.
"This is a starting point. Although most come to see the music or
soccer or come because others are coming, in reality after this
event they will be conscious of human rights," he said.
Yongye, who said he had recently returned from Angola where he was
working for the United Nations Development Programme, stressed the
need to raise awareness of human rights, saying South Africa was
leading the way on the continent.
"I hope many African countries will follow this," he said.