THE International Human Rights Exchange (IHRE) programme at Wits’ is investing in the future of students by offering them employment opportunities through internships.
The programme offers an average of 50 local and international Wits students internships at prominent non-governmental and other organisations such as the SA Human Rights Commission, Civicus, Helen Suzman Foundation and Sonke Gender Justice.
The initiative by IHRE attempts to deal with the widespread problem of unemployment that South Africa faces by allowing students to work and gain experience in the areas of research and project management to make them more marketable by the time they graduate.
IHRE’s programme assistant and student liaison, Shingirai Taodzera, says the South African job market is “extremely competitive” and “expanding at a slow pace”, making it essential for students to have “networked and gained practical skills of the work environment to limit the hardships of finding a job after completing their degrees”.
“Because social sciences is mostly non profitable in comparison to other fields such as engineering, networking is important to allow students to know where jobs could be, and if they have the experience of working, it makes it easier for them.
“IHRE offers internships so that students can learn etiquette, teamwork, leadership and inter-personal skills in a more practical manner because this is vital in the kinds of work they will do when they leave university.”
International relations honours student, Veronica Benham, has been part of IHRE for three years and having done an internship at the South African Human Rights Commission, feels she has “climatised to the work environment”.
“I had good relations with people at the commission and they were willing to have me beyond the duration of the internship,” she said.
Blake Desormeaux is an international student from Wellesley College in Boston, US, who is interning at the Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA).
“Through the IHRE internship I hope to gain more insight as to how better I can help the gay and lesbian support group which I run back at my college,” she said.
From left to right: Dr. Marie Gilbert, Thomas Fredrick Wheeler, Mr. Gabriel Shumba, Dr. Malte Brosig
The International Human Rights Exchange (IHRE) program held its first guest lecture of the year on Thursday 19th May, discussing the effectiveness of African and other continental organisations in their efforts to protect human rights.
The topic was titled “Weak and Ineffective?” and covered largely the African Union (AU)’s performance, assessed by experts in the field, of their failures and successes to unite African states under one umbrella which aims at human rights protection, continental peace and security, economic growth and development and good governance.
IHRE, which is the world’s only multidisciplinary undergraduate programme in Human Rights invited, on their guest panel, South African Foreign Service ambassador, Thomas Wheeler, executive director of Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF), Gabriel Shumba, Wits International relations lecturer, Malte Brosig and researcher in International Relations, Marie Gilbert.
The lecture was centred around the clarity that human rights protection in Africa has to a large extend been ineffective as informed by the recent violence in countries such as Libya, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ivory Coast and Kenya.
Wheeler cited this as being caused by “internal fractures” African organisations have in terms of “the failure in leaders to have a joined idea that human rights should remain central and form the base for other rights”
He said: “In Africa, national interests which are overwhelmingly directed at economic growth are given priority over political rights”
The problem of leadership was further illustrated by Brosig who argued that “decisions made in African organisations are subject to manipulation because of monetary funding received from external forces”.
“The AU for example receives 50% of its budget from the EU, therefore whether leaders will make decisions which are entirely beneficial to the people they serve is questionable,” he said.
Solutions to how African organisations can be strengthened and made more effective were covered briefly and panellists all agreed that joint efforts are required, especially from “hegemonic states such as South Africa”.
Shumba said: “As the economic hub on the continent, South Africa should set the moral code and lead by example. In this way countries which violate human rights will be shamed”.
The role of civil society organisations in fighting for human rights protection was said to be “pivotal” and “judicial structures such as the African court needs to become more active by making decisions which are binding to all states”, according to Shumba.
Students who attended the guest lecture at the Professional Development Hub