Message from President Nelson Mandela on Human Rights Day 1996

20 March 1996

21 March is South African Human Rights Day. It is a day which, more than many others, captures the essence of the struggle of the South African People and the soul of our non-racial democracy.

March 21 is the day on which we remember and sing praises to those who perished in the name of democracy and human dignity. It is also a day on which we reflect and assess the progress we are making n enshrining basic human rights and values.

March 21 1996 bears a particular significance because it precedes the date set for the adoption of our final Constitution, 9 May 1996, which must enshrine all the basic freedoms and rights which will ensure that South Africa becomes a model of democracy, stability and human advancement.

In the two years of democratisation, we have introduced a human rights culture unknown in the history of the country. Indeed, we compare favourably with most democracies and are in fact pioneers in a number of forms of social change, legislation and constitution making.

In the past two years we have removed all restrictions to the flow of information and ensured open and accountable government. The Freedom of Information Bill, which will guarantee access for the citizens to vital information relating to the running of their lives, is being debated with a view to adopt it soon. All appointments to significant public offices are preceded by a rigorous and public process of scrutiny.

We are at peace with our neighbours. Our relations are based on mutual co-operation and development. Gone are the days of conflict and intimidation.

This week parliament approved the appointment of the Inspector General of Intelligence, once more ensuring bringing to an end the era of the uncontrolled breach of the privacy of citizens and prohibiting unwarranted interference with the lives of innocent people.

We commemorate the 36th Anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission begins its work. The success of this endeavour - meant to bring out the truth about the past and bring about justice, reparations and reconciliation depends on the co-operation of all. I call on all South Africans to respect the Commission and give it the necessary support.

The death and destruction that is ravaging the Province of KwaZulu - Natal. I am determined to put an end to this senseless carnage. In doing so, I will employ all the power and authority vested in me by the law. I again appeal to all the leaders of the different political parties, opinion makers and all citizens to play their part in ending the conflict.

Our drive for human dignity and basic rights is premised on the development of our country and the improvement of the living conditions of the people. The freedoms whose virtue we are extolling will be meaningless in the face of grinding poverty and underdevelopment. The government is making real progress in accelerating the programmes for the improvement of the people's quality of life. Together, in the spirit of Masakhane, we can make South Africa a winning nation.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation