In conversation with Dr Solomon Dersso

In 2019, the Centre for Human Rights celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Master's programme in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa (HRDA). The Centre hosted a number of HRDA alumni at the University of Pretoria in a series of events to highlight the programmme's past achievements and to investigate how the programme can be enhanced to respond better to human rights challenges on the continent.

The second season of Africa Rights Talk kicks off with an interview with an HRDA alumnus of the Centre and current Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, Dr Solomon Dersso. He narrates his journey from the time he studied on the HRDA programme to the time he was appointed as the Chairperson of the African Commission. Dr Dersso describes and explains the nature of the work of the African Commission and gives an insight on his mandates and areas of priority for engagement during his tenure as Chairperson.

This conversation was recorded on 9 December 2019.

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In conversation with Ms Abigail Dawson

Throughout its history, Africa has experienced migratory movements that are both voluntary and forced and this have contributed to its contemporary demographic landscape. In many parts of the continent, communities bound together by languages, history and tradition are spread across two or three nation states, and movement is often not limited by political boundaries. Migration in Africa is a result of a number of factors, which include the need for improved socio-economic conditions through employment, environmental factors, as well as fleeing from political instability, conflict and civil strife.

The 2019 African Union theme speaks to forced displacement, which is a major issue confronting the African continent. More than a third of the world’s forcibly displaced people are in Africa: this include 6.3 million refugees and asylum-seekers, and 14.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). The Africa Union theme ‘Year of Refugees, Returnees and IDPs: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa’ urges leaders and civil society to act promptly to protect migrants. With the wave of xenophobic violence and other intolerances in many parts of the continent, the need to protect migrants has increasingly become important. In pursuit of protecting the rights of migrants, this conversation aims to addresses the challenge of xenophobia and to monitor and promote the daily experiences of migrants living in South Africa. The hope is to promote a culture that prevents discrimination of other people based on their nationality as well to enhance a culture of diversity.

In this episode, Abigail Dawson talks about the challenges that migrants face in South Africa. She is a qualified social worker and offers voluntary counselling for migrant women and children. She is the Communications and Media Officer of the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA) which is a national network of organisations working with asylum seekers, refugees and international migrants in South Africa. Its main objectives are the promotion and protection of the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and international migrants. CoRMSA operates at the national, regional and global level with strategic support to members at local and provincial levels.

This conversation was recorded on 21 October 2019.

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In conversation with Dr Linda Blokland

October is Mental Health Awareness Month and a number of initiatives and campaigns were launched to raise awareness around issues of mental health. Good health is one of the most fundamental aspects that are crucial to our well-being, and transcends age, sex or socio-economic backgrounds. But health should be approached holistically - we can not look at health without looking at mental health. Yet government institutions and other stakeholders do not adequately address mental health issues in their policies. 

In this episode, Dr Linda Blokland explores mental health and addresses the causes of stigma around mental health issues. She explains what mental health really means and advocates for access to adequate mental healthcare.

This conversation was recorded on 17 October 2019.

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In conversation with Prof Charles Ngwena

Professor Charles Ngwena is a renowned expert on human rights law at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. In this episode, Adebayo Okeowo talks to Prof Ngwena about his book What is Africanness? Contesting nativism in race, culture and sexualities, a visionary philosophical inquiry into the contentious issue of African identity politics. Prof Ngwena speaks about how the book explores the historical and cultural contexts in which Africans are perceived and how they perceive themselves in terms of race, culture and sexuality. He stresses the fact that identity is a concept that is not static but fluid and always changing. Prof Ngwena argues that 'Africanness' is a heterogeneous concept that accommodates difference and shows respect for diversity.

About What is Africanness? Contesting nativism in race, culture and sexualities

Stuart Hall, the cultural theorist and other deconstructive theorists have given us a rich theoretical template for unpacking identities as complex formations of representation. Even when we accept, as a point of departure, that identities are real and that it is not their falsity or genuineness that matters, if problematised, identities cease to be neat, singular, self-standing and static packages that speak to an integral and unified identity. The identities we take for granted, especially those that we ourselves proclaim to mark our exclusive identitarian spheres and which we invest with closures of solidarity and allegiance, are better understood as specific enunciations.

Identities are always situated and always in the making. They are neither fixed nor closed but always lodged in historical contingency. In the end, identities signify how we have been positioned by, or how we position ourselves within, discourse. And so it is with African identity.

Focusing on race, culture and sexuality, What is Africanness develops an interpretive method or hermeneutics for deconstructing African identity in ways that part company with discourses of reductive sameness – which I call ‘nativism – which have dominated the imagination of African identity not just during the eras of slavery, colonialism and apartheid but also in the aftermath of these historical events. The hermeneutics that What is Africanness develops are intended as transformative theoretical tools for dismantling hierarchical systems of thought and unmasking gaps and contradictions in the imagination of African identity. Ultimately, the book develops a roadmap for the recognition of heterogeneous African identity in a plural universe. It is an identity that is constantly unfolding and speaks to a multiplicity of ancestries together with their complexities, fluidity and difference. The book’s arguments should not be misunderstood as asking Africans to renounce any claim to an authentic African identity. Rather, the arguments call for authenticity to be reimagined in ways that are transformative as to capture not only our past but also our present and future Africanness.

What is Africanness? Contesting nativism in race, culture and sexualities by Charles Ngwena (2018)
Published by the Pretoria University Law Press (PULP)
ISBN: 978-1-920538-82-8
Pages: 306

This conversation was recorded on 19 August 2019.

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In conversation with Ms Saoyo Tabitha Griffith

The issue of forced sterilisation is a little-known matter as women are generally reluctant to discuss their experience. Stemming from the social stigma attached to women unable to have children, many women suffer in silence. Ms Saoyo Tabitha Griffith (Deputy Executive Director, KELIN) sheds light on the challenges and continued battle against the ongoing forced sterilisations in Kenya. The issue of informed consent and the demographic of women who are disproportionately affected are explored. 

In terms of who can consent, what type of consent is required, and the lack of emergency surrounding the procedure raise significant questions over the current practice of medical professionals. Despite the discussion focusing on Kenyan examples, the practice is wide spread, including in Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Uganda.

While reproductive rights tend to focus on women who want children, the Maputo Protocol and accompanying protections cover sexual and reproductive rights and speak to all women, both those who want and do not want children. The importance of such rights is explained through the associated societal benefits that accompany the empowerment of women, highlighting that the time for investing in women is now. The conversation ends with a roundup of some basic sexual and reproductive rights every women (and man) should be aware before seeking medical assistance.

This conversation was recorded on 27 March 2019.

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In conversation with Prof Fareda Banda

Experience has shown the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to be insufficient in addressing certain challenges faced by women across the African continent. Through the discussion with Prof Fareda Banda (SOAS, University of London) the background to the Maputo Protocol (Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa) and distinctions between it and CEDAW are explored.

Through building on the international framework, the Maputo Protocol reflects developments in the areas of: intersectionality; the specificities of the African women; decoupling women’s rights from the husband; and in reproductive rights, including access to safe abortions. We discuss how cultural practices can be used as justification for discrimination, whereby Prof Banda explains the cultural recognition within the Protocol and the requirement for women’s participation in their construction. She highlights the positive cultural practices of the continent and the importance of placing them within the treaty framework.

We then move to exploring family rights and the protections the Maputo Protocol has ushered in. Prof Banda delves into the provisions on marriage and inheritance and how the new African constitutions are removing discriminatory laws and no longer ringfence customary law from scrutiny. Whether the developments have occurred solely due to the laws in place is considered. Rounding off the discussion, the importance of knowing the African treaty is stressed to facilitate its broader use and in taking ownership of it.

This conversation was recorded on 26 March 2019. 

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In conversation with Prof Malcolm Langford

Economic and social rights have a day to day importance that is often overlooked, despite reflecting the real issues effecting peoples’ lives. In the discussion with Prof Malcolm Langford (University of Oslo) we explore the interlink between globalisation and economic and social rights and the impact of growing income inequality. The focus moves to how Africa and African states are approaching such rights from a historical background to present day realities. The homegrown aspects to the problems – such as the elite control over resources – and the politics of social rights is highlighted and dissected.

How social and economic rights are approached is considered from legislative and constitutional perspectives. We discuss how SA has been considered a leader in the area, but there has been an increase in developments throughout other African countries undertaking policy experiments and legislative change. The importance of ensuring the progressive realisation idea into practice is demonstrated through analysis of the Scottish Homelessness Act. The ability to turn rights into a means through which to pressure governments to implement change is imperative for improving everyday conditions.

Litigation of economic and social rights within Africa has evolved over the past decades. We have cases across the continent addressing a variety of rights and have helped communities hold governments to account. There has also been constitutional reforms and the establishment and expansion of bills of rights to incorporate aspects of social rights within African states. Finally, through discussing the Treatment Action Campaign and Grootboom cases, Prof Langford explains realistic expectations of what strategic litigation may be able to achieve, the type of impact we have seen and the level of compliance, and what this actually means.

This conversation was recorded on Tuesday 14 May 2019.

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In conversation with Ronie Zuze

In this extended episode listeners are taken on Ronie Zuze’s (Programme Coordinator for the Intersex Community of Zimbabwe) journey as an intersex person and the misunderstandings and challenges faced. Through their story it becomes clear how decisions taken by family and medical professionals when they were a child, have long lasting consequences. The need for support services and education on intersex is highlighted, as the community is often invisible despite being more common than many realise.

The episode’s second half explores early medical intervention in the lives of those with intersex and why the intersex community advocates for such interventions to be left as late as possible. The importance of choice and informed consent is stressed, because there is a lack of urgency surrounding the medical procedures, and to take cognisance of an individual’s self-identification.

Often misunderstood, is the distinction between intersex and sexual orientation. As Ronie explains, not all intersex people identify as gay, lesbian or transgender. This helps contextualise why the LGBTIQ+ forum is not always the most appropriate space for the fight for the human rights of intersex person, and can lead to the community perceiving their cause to be overlooked. The final part of the conversation debunks several myths surrounding intersex persons.

This conversation was recorded on Friday 1 March 2019.

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In conversation with Dr Elizabeth Kamundia

Many of us take for granted the ability to report crimes, take part in criminal and civil legal proceedings and make ourselves understood. However, this is not necessarily the case for those with disabilities. There may be additional barriers and hurdles to overcome which prevent access to justice and remedies. In this episode, Dr Elizabeth Kamundia (Kenya National Commission on Human Rights) presents the challenges persons with disabilities may face, and ways to rectify this within the formal justice system.

Focusing on intellectual disabilities, Dr Kamundia guides the listener through examples from the first point of contact with police, through to the final stage of court proceedings. The heavy reliance on verbal accounts is problematic for those whose disability hinders the ability to express themselves verbally and who may not present themselves in a manner the police expect. The lack of understanding surrounding disabilities, particularly around intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, coupled with the negative perceptions effects how they are treated when reporting cases.

The conversation then turns to the law, what support services are offered and the issue of legal capacity. In terms of the law, we consider how criminal defences can be strengthened to ensure those accused persons with disabilities are given appropriate sentences and defences. The effect of this enables both the rights and responsibilities of persons with disabilities to be upheld.

This conversation was recorded on 12 March 2019. 

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In conversation with Ms Perpetua Senkoro

The false beliefs surrounding persons with albinism have led to discrimination and their persecution, something Ms Perpetua Senkoro (Advocacy and Human Rights Officer, Under the Same Sun) strives to change. While albinism can affect any living thing, many have a limited understanding of the condition. During the discussion with Ms Senkoro she explains the importance of awareness raising and how it impacts the protection of persons with albinism.

In the episode we cover what albinism is, its day-to-day implications such as challenging those affected to access the environment around them, and why persons with albinism are included within disability groups and protections. While persons with albinism may not looked disabled, they suffer from many recognised disabilities as well as additional challenges stemming from harmful practices – including being hunted for their body parts. The many misconceptions and beliefs surrounding persons with albinism are demystified by Ms Senkoro, who explores the link between witchcraft and the false beliefs surrounding persons with albinism.

We then move to consider what protections have been put in place by governments and regional instruments and what has been done to challenge the beliefs within the African context. The difficulty surrounding community protection when the communities themselves hold harmful beliefs towards persons with albinism is explored. Through the discussion the pivotal role of awareness raising in challenging the negative perceptions held amongst both rural, urban, educated and non-educated communities becomes clear. 

This conversation was recorded on Thursday 14 March 2019.

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