Date: Jul 20, 2020

South Africa: Government can honour Nelson Mandela’s legacy by realising rights, now and always

As South Africa and the world marks Mandela Day, Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa, said:

“Shortly after he walked free from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela said, ‘To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity’. We remember this today as his legacy is honoured not only in South Africa but around the world.

However, many people living in South Africa are still denied their fundamental human rights, including safe water to regularly wash hands, a necessity in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. As we reach Day 114 of lockdown, Amnesty International South Africa is still receiving reports of communities without access to clean, sufficient and reliable water, despite government promises to deliver water to all.

Alarmingly, Amnesty International South Africa has also received reports of police opening fire on protestors with rubber bullets in the Eastern Cape last week. These protestors were simply demanding access to a basic human right – water.

In the same speech in 1990, Nelson Mandela said of South Africa:

‘It thirsts for the situation where those who are entitled by law to carry arms, as the forces of national security and law and order, will not turn their weapons against the citizens simply because the citizens assert that equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are fundamental human rights…’

Excessive use of force can never be tolerated. If the pandemic isn’t a wake-up call to government as to the gaping fissures in our society, we don’t know what is.

This is a life or death situation, and we call on the government to recognise that many people in South Africa are still denied their human rights, such as the right to water, even amidst a pandemic. By ensuring that these rights are realised without delay, not only now but always, the government can truly honour Nelson Mandela’s legacy and his vision for South Africa.”


The South African government is obligated by national and international laws and standards to deliver on the right to water. The national government, acting through the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, must ensure that water is protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner, for the benefit of all persons and in accordance with its constitutional mandate.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought this mandate to light with many people in South Africa already vulnerable and at great risk of contracting the disease because they do not have access to protective measures including sufficient water to regularly wash their hands. 

Take action here and call on the government to #TurnOnTheTap.


Mienke Steytler, Media and Digital Content Officer, Amnesty International South Africa: +27 (0)64 890 9224;