Statement at the Workshop: “Reporting on the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child” – 1997/07/24

Chairperson,
Distinguished participants:

Yesterday, the Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, Bridgitte Mabandia, gave me a bundle of documents, with strict instructions that I must study these documents. If anyone present happens to meet her here, please inform her that I made the statement, in your presence, that I am diligently carrying out her instructions.

To prove this point, I would like to quote to you an African proverb that is cited in one of these documents. The proverb says: “Until the lions have their historians, history will always be told by the hunters.”

To borrow from this thought, and in the context of our important meeting over the next two days, we could say that until we, who are adults, are able to say we shall genuinely speak in the tongues of the babes, we will have no claim to the right to bring up the new generation.

Life imposes on older generations the responsibility to prepare the young to fulfil the duties of mature citizens. In the practice, this objective is met, without recourse to formalised processes of educating the older generations to be the instructors of the young.

In the end, the young grow up to assume their responsibilities as adults through a process which includes interaction within the family, intercourse within the locality in which the family is placed, the years of schooling, exposure to existing human knowledge as might be stored in books, the arts, culture, language and daily human practice in all fields of human activity.

The children whose future we are meeting to discuss will go through such an experience, if we have cause to believe that we who are adults today are good and adequate human beings, then we should have no reason to think that today’s children, who will go through the process of socialisation as we did, will not grow up to become the normal human beings that we believe we are.

This must immediately pose the challenge to us to answer the question – who are we? If we could answer this question honestly, we would then have to address the next query.

That query would be – do we want to make the children a replica of ourselves? In the discharge of the responsibility we cannot avoid, do we discharge our responsibility to the child by seeking to create that child in our image.

The question may, of course, also be posed – can we avoid the consequence of our experience such that we create the new generation exactly in our own image, because, in reality, we have not knowledge or experience to impart except our own knowledge and experience, both of which are subject to the constraints of time and space.

In our own setting, as the democratic South Africa, I believe that we, as the adult citizens of the democratic Republic, should take the conscious decision that we shall not bring up the children of our country in our own image.

If we pose the questions to ourselves – who are we and what are we! – what answers shall we provide, as honestly as we can!

If honestly were to prevail, the following should be some of the things we should say about ourselves, as products of the process of the domestic and universal setting which helped to define our being.

First of all, we are each one of us, conscious of our race and colour. I am black or white or African or European or Asian or a combination of all these. All this tells an undeniable truth, which is decisive in the determination of who I am, how I live, how I think, what informs my instincts and feelings, how I define joy and grief, how I am fated to position myself in my interaction with the rest of all humanity.

All this, and much else besides, defines my character as a South African.

And yet, the South African child is born with no knowledge that he or she is black or white or African or European. You and I have the privilege to teach him or her to recognise these categories in a manner which seeks to ensure that the comprehension of these becomes part of the child’s own process of evolving its own identity.

As this adult South African, I also know that I cannot advance my interests as this or the other race or colour unless the other, who is of a different race or colour, concedes to me what would otherwise go to him or her.

And so I know that I, who is on this side of the street, and seeks a better life, must compete with the other, who is on the other side of the street, but also seeks a better life, so that I, regardless of the other, should attain what I believe is due to me.

If, in this competition, I am constantly the loser, I know I will end up hating my competitor, as an important factor in what makes me a human being.

And yet I know that no child is born hating. But nevertheless I know that it is my responsibility to cultivate hatred in the child, so that he or she can cope with the real world of the adults, in which, without hatred among some, no advance is possible for those who are despised.

I am also the product of an upbringing which taught me that no rule in social behaviour is more important that my own individual survival, success and continued existence. Everyday, practical life teaches me that this, indeed, is a golden rule. And yet, the first lessons the child learns is that it cannot survive without the mother, without the immediate community described as family, without the human context which enables the family to join the citizenship of the world.

I know too that my own self-respect and my esteem among my peers and others, rests fundamentally on how successfully I can present myself to this wider world as a person of means, appropriately endowed with regard to my dress, my abode, my means of travel, my largesse to my friends and the passers-by, my ability to dispense maternal magnanimity, seemingly without discrimination.

But no child has shame in its nakedness and no aspiration to aspire towards the decoration of finery. To the infant, nothing is more important that the being of the infant.

No difference exists between the breastmilk of the bourgeois and the breastmilk of the proletarian, except is such comparison in the quantity as may derive form the difference between poverty and prosperity.

But we who are the guardians of the child, are exposed to a different life experience, which, in many instances, leads to the abuse of this, the most vulnerable and defenceless member of society.

It was to deal with this contradiction in life which imposes on the guardian, who has been exposed to a life experience which, in part is informed by brutish behaviour, the responsibility to be inspired by the
defencelessness of the child, in order properly to discharge the responsibilities of a guardian, that the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted.

As South African adults we have been exposed to the experience, some of which we have described above. And yet the responsibility rests on us to create a society that is non-racial, that respects the principle of equality among the citizens, including equality among the different sexes, a society that knows no hunger and deprivation and no conflict within itself deriving from discrimination of one against the other.

As agents of transformation working to achieve this result, we have no alternative but to set ourselves definite measurable targets of what we need to achieve. Further, we have no choice but to monitor our performance to ensure that we do indeed meet these targets. And to meet them, we also have to ensure that we have the means to enforce the decisions we have made.

The point I am trying to make is that the protection and upliftment of the child can only be guaranteed if this symposium helps the process of ensuring that we, as a country, do indeed set ourselves targets and take all necessary means to ensure that those targets are realised hence the critical importance of your deliberations.

We have made bold to reaffirm many times that our objective is to build a people-centred society. Our success in achieving this goal will be measured in good part by the extent to which we actually create a caring society in which the child is protected and its rights guaranteed in practice.

It is your responsibility to help all of us to realise this objective.

I wish you success in our important work.

 

Thank you.


Issued by: SA Communication Service

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