Rights of Passage - 2005 competition


"The sins of the fathers "

By Jessica Bloom, 14, NSW WINNER star

As the child of two immigrants, from England and South Africa respectively, I am a product of a trinity of cultures. This has allowed me to witness how the often referred to "other half" live, both from my parents' recollections, and from my own visits to the places of their birth. Some of the most powerful experiences of my life have taken place during my several short stays in Johannesburg, where my father lived and worked for the first thirty-two years of his life. It is a city of violence and fear, where breaking the law that is so venerated in Australia is not only commonplace but inevitable. It is a city in which the inhabitants, both black and white, live with the consequences of human rights abuses that are still wreaking havoc on the country.

It was on one of my recent visits that I first realised that human rights were abandoned in countries that aspire to be First World, as well as in Third World countries. Until then, I had been too young to comprehend and had never really looked around me. I had always assumed that "human rights abuses" belonged to the same unimaginable world as was described in my somewhat shadowy conception of dictatorship, secret police, and Nineteen Eighty-Four-style "dystopias". It came as a shock to witness a country that, even after it had overthrown the grossly inhumane apartheid regime that my father had deserted, was in terms of human rights not at all the modern, functioning city that it had first appeared to be.

The human rights abuse that was apartheid is still felt in all areas of modern Johannesburg society. The wealthy white minority live in constant fear of being shot, raped or robbed, whilst the black majority is struggling to overcome the effects of inferior education, resources and existing social prejudice. The ill effects of such an inhumane system will take many years to rebuild. South Africa has become one of the most violent countries in the world, with an average murder rate of 20,000 incidents per annum. Despite the attempts at peace by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, many people, both black and white, still regard each other with antagonism, fear and a mixture of contempt and futile rage.

This dilemma demonstrates the extent to which the effects of prolonged human rights abuse can be felt. Although apartheid came to a formal end eleven years ago, the scars have not yet healed. The conditions I witnessed were no accident, and nor were they a product of the South African population in themselves. In a country where institutionalised human rights violations have produced a nation of the angry and afraid, the present situation seems unavoidable.

However, the current South African crisis has not registered with the Australian national consciousness. When the majority picture "human rights abuses", they seem to see Iraq-style torture and dictatorship, as I did before I opened my eyes to Johannesburg. South Africa however, bears lasting testament, not to the harmful influence of corruption or despotism, but purely to the impact of lack of adherence to the UN Charter. South Africa's position serves as a reminder for the universal need for the international application of human rights.