by Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Around the world Human Rights Day is celebrated on the 10 December, but in South Africa we celebrate it on the 21 March in remembrance of the Sharpeville massacre. Was Wednesday just another opportunity to socialise with friends, or was it something more?

While we celebrated these rights on Wednesday only days before we heard of the arbitration results by Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke on the Life Esidimeni hearings, where he found the behaviour of the Gauteng Health MEC to be irrational and her testimony false. He awarded ‘constitutional damages’ of over R1 million per person. Of course these must be paid out of an already underfunded health care budget or an already suffering public fiscus. We are still waiting to hear whether any of the politicians involved will be held personally liable and accountable for the atrocities. A Rabbi once said that “The opposite of good is not evil, but indifference”. It is clear that many so-called ‘public-servants’ are indifferent to the suffering their incompetence inevitably causes.

Can we then celebrate our human rights when it is patently clear they are being abused so often. We also recently learned of the second known death of a five-year-old child, Lumka Mketwa, found in a pit latrine in Bizana in the Eastern Cape. The first was Michael Komape who drowned in faeces in a pit latrine in Limpopo in 2014. Whilst much of the conversation over the last year has focused on the state of tertiary education – it is clear that basic education, the state of our schools and the quality of our teachers – is a far bigger problem.

Can we say things are changing under President Ramaphosa? It was heartening to hear how he dismissed the SARS Commissioner “for the sake of the country” – we pray that his crusade against corruption will intensify. But we all know that corruption is a cancer that is deep-rooted and difficult to excise. I believe we need a grass-roots paradigm shift in how we view corruption and its effects. At every level, corruption harms our human rights. If we as Christians affirm the truth that every human being, at every stage of life, is created in the image and likeness of God – then we must ask ourselves: How do I honour God in the other person? Corruption in the public sector has an especially cruel impact on the poorest of the poor – whether it is because funds are misspent or stolen which should have been spent on things like toilets, mental health care or other public goods. Corruption in the private sector also harms the common good, increasing inequality and threatening peace and public order. Corruption also harms the soul – hardening people’s hearts and closing their spirits off to receive God’s grace.

There was one event that pleased me this week. Watching teenagers across the sea in Parkland USA stand up and challenge their elected officials to serve the common good rather than a special interest group. Perhaps we need young people to stand up and say #NeverAgain here too! How many deaths due to corrupt or inept public officials need to happen before we say enough is enough? How much more corruption can we take in the private sector? How much longer can we allow our hearts to be hardened and remain indifferent?