Did you know this quote by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “My right to swing ends where your nose begins”?  The quote was simplified by scholars to: “Your rights end where mine begin”.

What we learn from this is that while everyone has rights, they end when they start to infringe on the rights of another.  This is why every right implies a responsibility that a citizen has to uphold.  This means that we have to hold ourselves accountable for our actions and, in some cases, hold other citizens accountable for infringing on other people’s rights.

South Africa has a dark history when it comes to human rights infringement at a government level. We have heroes like the freedom fighter Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu. Though he did not live to see a free South Africa, he as a young person, laid the foundation and blueprint for being vigilant about protecting the rights of others. He did not just stand by when he encountered injustice but acted and even paid the ultimate price for his beliefs.

We now live in a free South Africa, with freedom of movement and freedom of speech. With this freedom, with these rights – come responsibilities. While you may be versed in your human rights,   you also have to make sure you’re not violating anyone else’s rights. You have the right to freedom of movement, but you also have the responsibility to obey the laws of the city and country (and make sure that others do so as well, in order that we all contribute to making South Africa a great country – and the rainbow nation we are lauded to be.

You have the right to freedom of speech and expression, but with that comes the responsibility to understand that your freedom of speech and expression is not unlimited. It does not allow the utterance of bigotry, racism, sexism, and prejudice based on religion, sexuality, and gender identification.

We have the responsibility to uphold our rights, uphold the rights of others and not infringe on the rights of others.

As we celebrate Human Rights Day, let us remember our duty to positively contribute to making South Africa a more just place and to reclaim ourselves as the beacon of hope the world so much needed us to be at our birth as a free country, 28 years ago. In doing so we will be emulating Mahlangu when he defiantly said: “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people I love them. They must continue the fight.”

It is our responsibility!

If you liked reading this, you may enjoy, What Human Rights Mean To Me here

Tell us: Is the author being reasonable in his argument that there is no freedom without responsibility?