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Strengthening Human Rights in South Africa

ALTERNATIVES, 1 August 2002

Context :

Historical victims of racial discrimination and gross human rights violations, the non-white populations of South Africa have enjoyed, since 1994, full civil and electoral rights. Held as an example throughout the world, the South-African constitution is regularly quoted as being a progressive document fostering social integration and the protection of women, children, cultural minorities and immigrants.

However, many people active in the developmental community, such as researchers and human rights advocates are currently uneasy with the government of South Africa. An economic crisis has struck the country, making the poor even poorer, and this has brought out deep feeling of xenophobia in the general population and within the police force. Immigrants coming from neighboring countries, both legally and illegally, are regularly and arbitrarily victims of arrests, public vindictiveness and various forms of social discrimination.

The post-apartheid government’s economic development policies have been a series of financial austerity measures and the privatization of the essential public services. These policies constantly threaten the access to the basic services for the poor. Although access to water and health care is fully guaranteed by the South-African Constitution, the privatization of these services has had the consequence of considerably increasing prices. Millions of South-Africans have lost access to water during these last few years. Combined with a rate of unemployment exceeding 40%, the privatization of drinking water, energy, health and education has had a terrible impact on women in particular, since they are the ones in charge of domestic tasks and children’s education.

Project :

For this reason Alternatives finances the production of a research report aimed at evaluating the links between the economy and the constitution and the reality of human rights in South Africa. Directed by the group Research & Education in Development (RED), a partner of Alternatives for three years, the production process will actively utilize grassroots populations and local community groups. Researchers will be trained in their communities in order to lead interviews and to write interim reports. The populations will be, at the same time, informed about their rights and the South-African constitution.

The objectives of the project are as follows:

To obtain a better knowledge of the human rights situation in South Africa following the 1990 democratic transition and to analyze the impact of the economic development policies on human rights;
To analyze the conditions under which the new South-African constitution is able to answer human rights violations;
To reinforce the capabilities of participative research within the South-African civil society organizations;
To carry out a strategic mapping of South-African Community organizations involved in the questions of human rights, socio-economic rights and women’s rights