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JOHANNESBURG 21 March 2000

About 1500 people braved incessant rain on Tuesday to gather at the Makhulong stadium in Tembisa, east of Johannesburg, to commemorate Human Rights Day.

Drawn by the promise of hearing popular South African Kwaito acts, Arthur and Aba Shante, the day started off slowly.

By late morning only a few hundred had pitched to watch local team Classic FC play a celebrity side in a friendly soccer match.

Among the dignitaries who addressed the gathering were notable proponents of human rights like Louis Asmal, wife of Education Minister Kader Asmal, who is chairman of the European Union funded Foundation for Human Rights.

The foundation organised Tuesday's commemoration together with the Human Rights Commission, the Public Protector and the Commission on Gender Equality, in partnership with Rights Africa.

Louise Asmal told Sapa that although inroads had been made into educating society about their rights, there was still a "huge way" to go before every person understood what they meant.

"There are a great number of people who know nothing about their socio-economic rights and what they can push for," she said.

Asmal praised the European Union for promoting human rights in SA, and urged the Mbeki administration to become more involved.

Other speakers included Public Protector Selby Baqwa, South African Human Rights Commission chairman Dr Barney Pityana and chairwoman of the Commission on Gender Equality Joyce Pilisi-Seroke.

Baqwa told Sapa the essence of the day was to "inculcate" a culture of human rights.

He said although South Africa had managed to overcome its past which was one of "zero human rights" there would always be a need for such awareness campaigns.

Even in democracies, he said, structures such as the public protector, were essential.

"We are never going to eliminate it (the violation of human rights) but we can minimise it," he said.

By the time speakers had completed their addresses, the crowd had swelled to fill the stadium, many attracted more by the lively entertainment on offer than the human rights message.

SA Prisoners' Organisation for Human Rights spokesman, Otis Finck, said the day was a step in the right direction.

"Its a good thing and we are able to come down to the grass roots. It's not only about T-shirts, but what happens after this. Will they go away with something?" asked SA Prisoners' Organisation for Human Rights spokesman Otis Finck.

"There's still a lot to be done in making people realise their rights," he added.

Wirba Alidu Yongye from Cameroon, who is in the country to help promote the Bahai Faith - an independent world religion, said it was a "big achievement" to have a public holiday in recognition of human rights.

"In most African countries they don't have a public holiday declared for human's a privilege.

"This is a starting point. Although most come to see the music or soccer or come because others are coming, in reality after this event they will be conscious of human rights," he said.

Yongye, who said he had recently returned from Angola where he was working for the United Nations Development Programme, stressed the need to raise awareness of human rights, saying South Africa was leading the way on the continent.

"I hope many African countries will follow this," he said.

©Copyright 2000, African National Congress Daily News Briefing

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