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Enshrine human dignity

I was in the sleepy village of Mokobeng, the other day, doing charity work with the Madiba Class of '93 (M'93) alumni society. Oh, what a day it was! We took time out to fix the dwellings of some needy people in an effort to save them from the winter.

One of the beneficiaries, a man of means by no means, lives in a tin house and is unemployed. When we first met with him we asked him to point to us where he slept.  He pointed out a structure in the yard;

“ke robala gone mo tool boxeng e”, viz; “I sleep in this tool box.”

The humble and likeable gentleman virtually lives in a tool box assembled from weather beaten corrugated iron sheets nailed to wooden poles. Dilapidated corrugated iron sheets complete the roofing. It was not difficult to imagine his life through the seasons. Some part of the year, his home is a furnace. The other, it is a morgue. But, one must have a home and the “toolbox” is his home. Such are the hardships many of our people endure even as the nation’s wealth is corruptly lavished on British scrapyards, EVM’s and fighter jets. 

By the late afternoon, the incomplete structure in the yard was assuming the shape of a house and it was gratifying to observe his face lighting up with excitement. We had been to the man’s house before, at least twice, in our consultative visits with the village authorities and I had not before, seen him so happy. 

“Le nna ke tla itse go bua le batho ka fenstere”, he said, making no effort to hold back the excitement. “Le mphe senepe ke tle ke supegetse batho gore le nna dikoloi di kgona go pheka mo game”.

If we laughed, it was not because we found anything funny with what he had said. It was to hide our shame as a people. How neglectful we could be to those around us so much that they find excitement in mundane experiences of life we daily enjoy without noticing.

One of the key areas of study in post liberal constitutional law is the value of human dignity as a constitutional entitlement. Liberal constitutions, almost invariably donated by departing colonial masters, and hardly ever drafted in consultation with the people, generally protect first generation rights against the predatory hands of governments. The rights are sung out of these constitutions to the less fortunate, but hardly ever have relevance to their socio-economic realities.  Human dignity is hardly ever, one of them.

When the former President mentioned dignity in his inaugural address I was momentarily excited. My excitement fizzled out fairly soon, upon realising that the whole address had in fact been an April fool prank. Our government, is concerned with human

dignity out of political expediency and not out of constitutional duty. As a result, it is given to misplaced priorities. The socio-economic welfare of the citizenry is prioritised below armaments, grant symbolism (imagine the naked banditry that was BOT50) and wasteful expenditure. It is vested with no constitutional duty to underwrite the basic needs of those who cannot help themselves and as such has no constitutional pressure in its administration of national resources.

This gentleman of whom I speak has, on account of reasons beyond his control, never spoken to people through the window of his own house. He has lived in a tin house and sung his country’s national anthem whilst outside, foreigners enjoyed his country’s wealth in unholy partnerships with corrupt politicians. The simple dignity of having a proper room in which to sleep and air vents through which to breathe, is something he has missed for the best part of his life and to which government has no binding commitment.

Some would say that his upliftment is his private citizen duty and that I am preaching dependency. The pontificators are generally beneficiaries of accomplishments not their own and include those who like me, were fortunate earn a degree, a Diploma or a certificate for which they paid nothing. Life does not deal us all the same card. One is born in a castle and the other, under the bridge. One is afflicted by disability and the other is not. One must drop out of school to take care of their orphaned siblings, the other does not.

As a young prosecutor, I traversed the country servicing the High Court in its Circuit Court sessions. Circuit Court, by the way, is an extinct programme where murder cases committed within a particular locality were tried in that locality. Communities had a firsthand account of how those accused of killing their loved ones were dealt with by the justice system.

Someone, at the High Court, then decided that Judges were too important to sleep in villages and discontinued the programme. The arrogance of The Administration of Justice can be baffling. Once, whilst on Circuit Court duty, in Gantsi, I saw bundles of clothes under some trees just outside the village. I would learn from the Police Officer I was driving with, that the tree was in fact someone’s home.

There must be nationwide dialogue with a view to ensuring that some basic levels of human dignity are made a constitutional imperative.

Chief On Friday




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