19 July 2019 | Story Eloise Calitz | Photo Charl Devenish
Human Rights ambassadors programme
Mihle Tyatyaza and Musa Makupu are two of the human rights ambassadors.

Gernus Terblanche is a PHD student in Virology; he is currently the prime of the Imperium city residence and a proud human-rights ambassador. What he values most about this role, is the opportunity to have open and honest conversations about human-rights issues.

Students in residences are often confronted with human-rights issues; this initiative has created a platform for open dialogue on critical issues that did not exist in the past. Ambassadors play a critical role in ensuring that the rights of resident students are not infringed. “I have learned a lot about the planning of events and leadership, and my knowledge of human rights has increased significantly,” says Terblanche.

The programme

The Human Rights Ambassadors programme was launched in 2016 under the Advocacy division of the Free State Centre for Human Rights. The main objectives of the programme are to establish and strengthen a culture of human rights within all the UFS residences. This is based on the belief that the dignity of all must be respected and protected, as stated in the South African Constitution. The long-term objective is to expand the service to the Qwaqwa Campus and to include and serve communities surrounding all three UFS campuses.

How do you become an ambassador?

Each residence appoints a human-rights ambassador. The ambassador has to ensure that the values and practices of the residence respects the human rights of all. Ambassadors are required to undertake awareness-raising activities to achieve these goals. Mihle Tyatyaza and Mosa Makupu are two of the ambassadors who benefit from this programme. 

Tyatyaza, a BA Social Science undergraduate and the human-rights representative for House Veritas, says the exposure he gained though engagement with other students on this platform will assist him with his studies and future career. He is excited about the fact that students now have the opportunity to share their experiences and thereby learn more about human rights. 

Makupu, a BSc Mathematical Statistics undergraduate and the human rights representative for House Madelief, believes that she has gained a better understanding of the importance of human rights through this programme, as well as the lack of knowledge most students have. This has guided her to educate other students. What she experienced, is that some students do not even realise that their basic rights are violated; now she can make a difference through education and regular engagements with resident students. 

Scope of awareness activities

Activities include dialogue sessions, seminars, and theatrical productions. These activities are grouped within various themes, including sexual harassment, gender-based violence, LGBTIQ rights, and the right to academic privacy. The 2019 theme for awareness-raising activities is Dignity. 

Importance of collaboration

The programme functions in close collaboration with the provincial offices of the South African Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender Equality, and the UFS Office of Gender and Sexual Equity. Together with the Residence Committees and the Values and Strategies Committees of each residence, the ambassadors strive to uphold the values of respect and inclusion in the residence.

Annelie de Man, Coordinator: Advocacy Division in the Free State Centre for Human Rights, says the benefits of the programme are evident in the progress that has been made in terms of creating awareness among resident students. What also sparked this awareness, was the successful implementation of various activities by the ambassadors, especially on 21 March – Human Rights Day. The programme is closely managed, and each ambassador submits bi-annual reports to track trends, activities, and learnings. One of the commendable achievements this year was the collaboration between the ambassadors and the residence committees that supported the drive for equality and non-discrimination.  

Upcoming initiatives

Date: 23 July 2019 
Venue: Albert Wessels Auditorium
Theme: The freedom of expression showcase

The programme is coordinated by the ambassadors of House NJ van der Merwe, House Villa Bravado, and House Welwitschia. This event will provide students with a platform to socialise and discuss issues around human rights.

Date: 23 August 2019
Theme: Cultural showcase ‘Now we are Free’.  

Ambassadors from all the residences on campus are hosting a culture showcase. The focus of this event is based on our 2019 theme, ‘Dignity’ and freedom of expression. 

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