The South African constitution has been hailed as one of the most progressive in the world, but not everyone it seeks to protect knows the extent of their rights.
This is what a baseline survey conducted by the Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) in 2011 found.
The survey was conducted to look into awareness of, access to, and attitudes towards the constitution, and consisted of a questionnaire relating to human rights.
The core finding of the survey was that South African’s knowledge about their rights was worryingly low — with 55% of the population saying they had never heard of the constitution and the Bill of Rights.
In response, FHR has now launched an animated series called Raising Awareness of the Constitution and Bill of Rights — to give people information about their rights, and how to put that knowledge into action.
While it’s specifically aimed at children and school learners, the series has been designed to be accessible to every South African who feels that they don’t know enough about their constitutional rights.
Each of the 20 episodes explores different elements of the constitution like equality, children’s rights, housing, healthcare, and education.
As well as looking into the most pressing, burning issues in the country, the episodes include interviews with experts and the personal stories of people who have struggled to realise their rights.
The whole series is part of #KeepItConstitutional, a campaign launched in 2014 to provide education for South Africans about our constitution.
Speaking to the DailyVox, executive director of FHR, Yasmin Sooka said: “We were quite surprised to find that for most people living in vulnerable and marginalised communities, knowledge of the constitution comes from learners who are at school.”
The South African constitution was negotiated after the end of apartheid in 1994, but was only approved by the Constitutional Court on Dec. 4 1996 and took effect on Feb. 4 1997.
The constitution was developed to bring about transformation, especially for people and communities whose human rights had been abused by the apartheid government. However, not understanding one’s rights still exposes people to violation of these rights.
In a 2018 report, which was founded on nearly 25,000 interviews, FHR found that there was a decline in knowledge about the constitution, particularly among vulnerable groups in society — only 47% of women had heard about the constitution or Bill of Rights, and just 55% of men.
The survey included getting people’s views on certain issues relating to their rights. For example, in response to the survey’s true statement that married women in South Africa have the right to refuse to have sex with their husbands, a worrying 41% of all respondents didn’t think that was correct — with 39% of them being female.
Sooka said a constitution that communicates rights in a way that’s simpler and more accessible will help people understand and be able to access their rights.
He added: “If we understand it and that the rights apply to all of us, then we can use this mechanism in the constitution to enforce those rights. That improves the quality of life for most South Africans.”
The educational campaign #KeepItConstitutional has been in the making since 2015 and has been developed with continuous input from school children, Sooka says.
As part of a plan to educate and empower school learners to use the constitution to improve the quality of their lives and communities, the FHR conducted pilot exercises with learners from five different schools across the Gauteng province.
In an interview with broadcaster SABC, programme manager at the FHR, Achmed Mayet said knowing the constitution is important in providing agency to access one’s rights.
“Because of the literacy levels in our country, we believe that an animation will be able to get the message across easier and people will be able to see it and identify with it,” he added.
The message in the series encourages reporting threats on the right to dignity to the South African Human Rights Commission, the Equality Court, and the Commission for Gender Equality.
“Ensuring that people aren’t discriminated against, and can claim their rights equally, is vital for ensuring that everyone can reach their full potential,” says the second episode, which teaches about equality.
To make it as accessible as possible, the series is available in English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, and Sesotho. The ultimate goal, said Mayet, is to have episodes in all 11 of South Africa’s official languages.
The series has already been receiving positive feedback.
The videos have also been created to be as short as three to four minutes long — in an effort to stop the high data costs in South Africa excluding people living in poverty from seeing the videos.
South Africa’s data prices are by far the most expensive in Africa — charging an average of R116 (about $7.80) per gigabyte.
Furthermore, the FHR will be extending its reach by creating a radio series which will be broadcast on community radio stations.
“Over the last 20 years, we have found that the most accessible medium for people who live in marginalised communities is community radio,” Sooka told the Daily Vox.
The programme can be integrated in schools using the lesson plans available for download on the website. Mayet said they also have external drives available to distribute the series to schools that do not have access to the internet.
- You can view the video series on the FHR website here, to learn more about your own rights as laid out in the South African constitution.