A NATION UNITED IN ITS DIVERSITY
Today, we honour International Day of Peace and commemorate the 30th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Minority Rights – a significant date on the FW de Klerk Foundation’s calendar. It is also apt that later this week, we will celebrate Heritage Day and with it, the cultural diversity of South Africa’s people.
In 1981, the UN General Assembly declared the 21st of September as an annual day dedicated to strengthening the ideals of peace by observing 24 hours of non-violence and cease-fire globally. However, lasting peace depends very much on building societies in which every member is treated fairly and equally. Especially minorities need assurance that their right to practise their own culture, religion and language – in private as well as in public – is protected and promoted by law.
To mark the adoption of the Declaration on the 18th of December 1992, the UN General Assembly will today hold a high-level meeting with heads of state in New York. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious, and Linguistic Minorities, sets essential standards to ensure the rights of persons belonging to minorities. It also offers guidance to States as they seek to manage diversity and ensure non-discrimination, and for minorities themselves, as they strive to achieve equality and participation.
In November 2013, in a speech to the International Peace Symposium in Brussels, former President FW de Klerk warned that the “most ominous threat to diversity came from increasing demands that minorities should conform to the goal of pervasive and all-embracing demographic representativity in the public, private and non-governmental sectors.”
Article 2 of the UN Declaration assures “persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, and to use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without interference or any form of discrimination.”
Article 4 requires States to “take appropriate measures so that, wherever possible, persons belonging to minorities may have adequate opportunities to learn their mother tongue or to have instruction in their mother tongue.”
The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996 assures South Africans’ right to use the language and participate in the cultural life of their choice, as well as the right to join and maintain cultural, religious and linguistic associations with other organs of civil society. However, recent developments suggest that the South African government is not following best international practices when it comes to minority rights:
- The 2021 Annual Report of the Pan-South African Languages Board (PANSALB) pointed to the South African government’s continuing failure to promote indigenous languages and the failure of government departments and institutions to comply with the Use of Official Languages Act 12 of 2012.
- The adoption of the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill 2022 (BELA Bill) would also pose a serious threat to language and cultural rights in South Africa, as single-medium schools would soon be forced to provide dual-medium education, and school governing bodies stripped of their power to determine the language and admission policy of its school.
- The rising tide of xenophobic rhetoric aimed at foreign nationals in South Africa might lead to “explosive violence” if not addressed by government
In the Declaration, the UN Human Rights Office states that “ending discrimination against minorities requires us to protect and embrace diversity through the promotion and implementation of human rights standards.” The South African Constitution echoes this statement in its preamble and in Chapter 2 – the Bill of Rights – which further outlines the strong emphasis on the protection and promotion of human rights, envisaging a South Africa “united in our diversity.”
As President FW de Klerk said upon accepting the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Nelson Mandela: “In our quest for peace, we should constantly ask ourselves what we should do to create conditions in which peace can prosper…peace does not fare well where poverty and deprivation reign, it does not flourish where there is ignorance and a lack of education and information…racial, class and religious intolerance and prejudice are its mortal enemies.”
Learn how you can support the FW de Klerk Foundation in building an inclusive and diverse South Africa – a nation united in its diversity.
Pictured here: FW de Klerk at the 15th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Barcelona in 2015