By Nosipho Luthuli – On 21 March, South Africa commemorates Human Rights Day in remembrance of the Sharpeville Massacre that took place on the same day in 1960. This massacre occurred because of protests against the Apartheid government at the time.
Fast forward 2017, SA is twenty-three years into its democracy with a Constitution praised as the best in the world, how is commemorating this day still relevant? This is because even though SA has enjoyed two decades of democracy many people still do not understand what it is, how it works and how it can protect them.
It is for this reason that the Democracy Development Program (DDP) exists: to deepen the knowledge and practice of democracy in SA.
On 09-10 March at the La Vita Conference Centre, the DDP in partnership with the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) held a two-day comprehensive workshop to help community based organisations to understand the law, their rights and the Constitution.
On day one, DDP project coordinator Brian Bhengu assisted the participants with understanding democracy and the Constitution. The day started with a discussion about how they viewed the Constitution. These were some of the responses:
“The Constitution contradicts culture and Christianity.”
“The Constitution protects those that took land illegally.”
“Laws that we do not know are passed. People don’t know these laws. It is the job of the government to promote the knowledge of the Constitution amongst people.”
“The Constitution protects people in power. They say it is the best because it protects them.”
Participants then formed groups and divided various chapters of the DDP publication Democracy and You, to learn more about it and what it entails. The groups then presented their chapters to help everyone else understand the chapter. The publication covers: understanding democracy, the SA Constitution, Bill of Rights, electing a government, how the government works, making the law and how citizens can actively participate in this democracy.
Day two of the workshop involved presentations on various aspects of the law by LRC attorneys. These presentations were: Land Rights and Security of Tenure by Lungelo Baleni, Environmental rights (Community participation and Environmental Impact Assessments) by Anneline Turpin, Different Forms of Marriages and the Domestic Violence Act by Sindisiwe Mfeka and Disability Rights by Previn Vedan.
All presentations ended with a robust question and answer session which was evident that the participants had been living with various legal issues without knowledge on how to address them and who can assist them.
Please Note Democracy and You is available on request on firstname.lastname@example.org in English, IsiZulu, IsiXhosa and Afrikaans.