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March 2019 Issue 17
 
 
You are human and you have rights

Human rights are the basic rights a person is born with. It is the general values of society that have been protected in the Bill of Rights contained in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (“Constitution”). The manner in which human rights are applied on a day-to-day basis will depend on the circumstances of each matter. This article will shed some light on the rights to dignity, basic education, freedom of speech and equality.

What exactly is the right to dignity?

  • Everyone has the right to have his/her dignity respected and protected.
  • A person’s dignity refers to self-respect and his/her value and worth as a human. The right to dignity includes, for example, not to be humiliated, insulted or treated with disrespect.
  • However, a person is expected to tolerate certain infringements of his/her dignity. This means that the right to dignity does not provide a person with a right to never be criticized at all.
  • For example, a student receives a fail mark for his/her essay which includes criticisms about where s/he went wrong. Even though the student might feel bad after reading the criticisms, s/he must remember that it was made in order to improve him/her. On the other hand, the criticisms should not be of such a nature to humiliate the student, for example, the terms “stupid” or “dumb” must be avoided.

What exactly is the right to basic education?

  • Everyone has the right to basic education. In general, this right allows for basic education to be available, accessible and of a good quality. For example, to have access to classrooms, teachers, textbooks and so on.
  • Basic education can also refer to the period a child is forced to attend school, which is until s/he reaches the age of 15 years or completes grade 9.
  • It should be kept in mind that the right to basic education does not include a right to free education. However, there are options available to apply for exemption from paying school fees by comparing the annual school fees with the annual income of the parents. For example, to qualify for a total exemption, the annual school fees must be equal to or more than 10% of the combined annual income of the parents.

What exactly does the right to freedom of speech allow a person to say?

  • Everyone has a right to freedom of speech (which forms part of a person’s right to freedom of expression), which allows a person to voice his/her opinions, thoughts, and beliefs. This can be done through expressing thoughts verbally (such as during a conversation with someone), in writing (such as in an e-mail) or on the internet (such as a post on social media platforms).
  • However, there is a false belief that a person can say whatever s/he wants without any limitations or consequences.
  • The right to freedom of speech may be limited and the rights of other persons must be taken into account, for example, a person may say something that humiliates another and violates that person’s right to human dignity.
  • A person is also not allowed to say whatever s/he feels like where it amounts to hate speech (such as racist remarks).

What exactly is the right to equality?

  • Everyone has the right to be treated equally and to receive equal protection of the law.
  • This right has allowed for developments in a modern society regarding women being equal to men, the recognition of same-sex marriages and so on.
  • These developments are due to the right to equality also including the right not to be discriminated against, directly or indirectly,  based on race, gender, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
  • For example, a woman cannot be discriminated against when applying for a job just because she is pregnant.
  • However, the right to equality does not mean that a person should be treated equally in all aspects. For example, a person’s opinion on a certain topic may not be considered with equal force to that of an expert on the same topic, or that another person’s painting be purchased for the same price as a well-known painter’s.
Did you know:The right to basic education not only requires that facilities be set-up for students, but requires that those facilities be properly equipped with textbooks and furniture with which to study.

 



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