On Human Rights Day our nation commemorates the Sharpeville Massacre of 21 March 1960, when police opened fire on a peaceful protest, killing 69 people and wounding 180 under the oppressive apartheid regime.

It is a day on which we remember the importance of human life and dignity, and the responsibility we have to protect these basic rights.

Yet just last week, a World Bank report found that South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world.

The most pressing and evident human rights violation in South Africa today is crippling poverty.
Section 10 of the Bill of Rights in our Constitution says that: “Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.”, but for as long as poverty persists in our country, no South African will ever live a life of dignity and respect.

On this Human Rights Day, if we are to realise the vision of human dignity for all that is enshrined in the Bill of Rights, we need to commit as a nation to ending poverty which continues to deny over 60% of South Africans their human rights and basic freedoms.

This is the fight of our generation, and the fight that the DA will be taking up under my leadership.

Today I am visiting the rural community of Gemsbokspruit in Mpumalanga, to listen and to learn.

I am here to see for myself the daily indignities that poverty subjects them to and to hear first-hand about the daily struggle of people to make ends meet.

I want to understand what it is they care most about and what they want government to do to make their lives easier.

For most families here, the social grant is their lifeline.

They lack access to the opportunities they need to be independent, and so are wholly dependent on government, and that meagre but precious social grant each month, which they’re having to stretch further and further.

The cost of living is being driven up relentlessly by the rising cost of fuel and electricity which is driving up food prices, and the cost of basic commodities has far surpassed any social grant increase. Social grants are going up by 4.5% in April, yet electricity is going up by 9.6% and fuel by 11% in the same month. Cooking oil has gone up by 28%, sugar by 6.6%. meat by 8.2%, and veggies by 8.6%. A tin of pilchards was R10 in 2015 and now costs R24. And prices are set to skyrocket this winter.

Poverty kills.

Nearly 7500 children under the age of five die from hunger each year in our country.

South Africa’s children are at much greater risk from hunger than they are from Covid, and this is evident in communities such as Gemsbokspruit.

Food inflation and the rising cost of living are not merely circumstantial. They are linked to rising fuel and electricity prices on the back of Ramaphosa’s useless, corrupt, and indifferent Poverty Cabinet.

Ramaphosa’s Poverty Cabinet only entrenches human indignity by over-taxing the poor to cover the cost of blatant government corruption, killing the South African economy with ill-conceived policies, and hindering basic services upon which the poor are desperately reliant.

This is why the DA has initiated a Motion of No Confidence in cabinet, scheduled for 30 March 2022, in which we plan to get rid of South Africa’s Poverty Cabinet and replace it with one to grow our economy and provide our people with the basic rights and dignity for which they fought so hard.

Poverty is not an insurmountable obstacle to our country, but President’s Ramaphosa’s Poverty Cabinet is the greatest obstacle to human rights and dignity in post-apartheid South Africa.

They simply have to go.

Today, on Human Rights Day, we appeal to all South Africans to get behind our vision of ending poverty in our lifetime, and the first steps is getting rid of South Africa’s Poverty Cabinet.

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John Steenhuisen

John Steenhuisen is federal leader of the Democratic Alliance, opposition party of the Republic of South Africa.

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