Reflections on Human Rights Month with Juta CEO, Brian Wafawarowa


We find ourselves in a very challenging time in South Africa, and globally, the world seems to be growing in complexity. It can sometimes feel like ideas that are centred around a common human goal are lost in the myriad of problems and challenges that we are facing at this time in our history. On the theme of human rights, social ills continue to plague progress and there is no shortage of stories in the media on the many human rights violations around the world. With this in mind, and given how heavy and overwhelming these burdens seem at the moment, how do we continue to forge a path ahead toward the common goal of equal rights for all? We spoke to our CEO, Brian Wafawarowa and asked for his insights on some of these challenges.

Q: What do you believe our aspirations should be for society at this time?
A: I think our aspiration is to create an environment where everyone, especially young people, has an opportunity to improve their lives through work and entrepreneurial opportunities and through appropriate education and training. If we get this right, people can look after themselves, including their health, nutritional and social needs.

Q: How do we face our days with hope instead of despair?
A: Our history is a testimony to our triumph over adversity and that same spirit should carry us through this now. We should not have assumed that the end of apartheid and the start of a democratic dispensation would be the end of our challenges. We need to reach into that resilience and social participation, including local social organisations against crime, remedial interventions around education and the stimulation of local formal and informal economic activities.

Q: Why is common ground, particularly right now, important for human rights progress in South Africa?
A: I think common ground is an elusive concept, considering the inequity that we face now. First and foremost, we should be guided by the constitution and the bill of rights and ensure that people get the basic services to which they are entitled. Above that, we then can look at social solidarity and the need to resolve the common ills that we face. The two are different but not mutually exclusive because a South Africa that is not delivering basic requirements for all citizens is not viable. The way we are going on now portends a social implosion that no one can afford.

Q: Given the complexity of our history as a country, can we say that we are doing enough to build a society that is moving forward?
A: There is a lot that has been done in the areas of water and electricity provisioning, making education more accessible to more people and several other social improvement initiatives. However, I do not think that we are doing enough and I also do not think that we are deploying the few resources that we have effectively. I pointed out the role that education and training can play in social and economic upliftment earlier. Yet we have significant problems with our education. Most learners that leave high school are not adequately equipped to take on higher education and succeed. Many learners struggle through their higher education and the throughput is very low. On the other hand, the skills that the few learners who go through have, do not prepare them adequately for the workplace or to take on the work and entrepreneurial opportunities available to them. I am aware of the myriad of problems that we face today but I am emphasizing education and training because they can play an important equalising role. For it to be effective we need to make sure that the learners are prepared to progress to higher education and that the skills that they get enable them to secure work and create livelihoods for themselves.

Q: What do you see as our major stumbling blocks to the progression of rights in South Africa?
A: There are many obstacles to the full realisation of human rights in South Africa and the continent but education and awareness are the key obstacles. In South Africa, we have a progressive constitution and bill of rights. We also have strong and independent institutions to help protect these rights. I am of the view that individuals and communities should be the ones that protect their own rights with the help of these institutions. However, to be able to do that, citizens need to be educated about and aware of their rights. Only then can they realise when these rights are violated and will know what to do in such situations. So, we need to build on literacy, education and awareness as the key means to enhance human rights.

Q: Our hardships and struggles on the continent have been exacerbated by our collective history. This has subsequently added to the perception of slow progress. Where do you think we are making strides in Africa?
A: Yes, it is understandable to get stuck in a negative spiral, given the several challenges that we face but I am encouraged by the role that new technology is playing in facilitating faster business transactions, in facilitating better learning options and in the delivery of essentials like medicine. Many young people across the continent are taking advantage of technology for business collaboration, to move goods and to receive payments, while many education institutions are using new technology to deliver learning more effectively. This hopefully will improve learning outcomes.

Q: What is the one thing you would want leaders (business or otherwise) to reflect on most this Human Rights month?
A: We all need to think seriously about where our future business will come from and how we can, through our business practice today, secure that future by developing young people. Projections are that most young people in the next two decades, will be living in Africa. Those large numbers will be a burden if the young people are not active participants in the economy, where they can make a huge contribution to the further development of the continent. Again, education is at the centre of that realisation. So, business leaders need to focus on contributing to the effort of educating young people today, for the future.

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