This past Friday marked the annual celebration of Human Rights Day in South Africa, a day spent commemorating all those who have fought and died to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the South African people.
President Jacob Zuma addressed thousands at the George Thabe Cricket Pitch in Sharpeville, the site at which the Sharpeville massacre occurred.
The massacre occurred on March 21, 1960, and serves as the event which sparked Human Rights Day.
On that day, thousands of South Africans joined together to protest against the apartheid Pass laws, a system designed to segregate the population and severely limit their movements around the country. Residents of the Sharpeville and Langa townships embarked on a protest march and were attacked by the police. 69 of the protesters were killed, while 180 more sustained severe injuries.
The event became known as the Sharpeville massacre because hundreds of other South Africans across the country were killed that same day for protesting.
This brutality came as a result of apartheid colonialism, which ravaged South Africa for decades. Humans Rights Day thus reminds us of the sacrifices of democracy, as well as the progress that South Africa has made in promoting human rights regardless of one’s race, gender, or sexual orientation.
A number of South African leaders spoke at the Sharpeville pitch on Friday, all highlighting the achievements that South Africa has made since the adoption of human rights in 1994.
That year marked the end of apartheid for South Africa. It was only two years later that the late President Nelson Mandela would sign the South African Constitution in Sharpeville, to pay homage to those who lost their lives that day.
Now, South Africa is celebrating all it has achieved. This year’s Human Rights Day theme is ‘Celebrating 20 years of changing lives through human rights.’
President Zuma noted, “Madiba and his peers and those before them, laid a foundation for the society that respects human rights, freedom and justice. On such a day, we remember and celebrate their contribution to making South Africa a good place to live in. We can’t do all this alone. We need your support as a community to work with us. Let us build our country together.”
South Africans across the country heard his cry.
Many activist groups gathered at various locations to rally for Human Rights Day. A campaign known as Right2Know gathered outside of the Johannesburg Central Police Station to protest police brutality. A group known as the Women of Marikana rallied for gender equality in Wonderkop. The Democratic Alliance’s Women’s Network in the Western Cape held a candlelight vigil that night.
The responses of all of these groups show the enduring determination of South Africans to work together as a community to protect human rights and prevent violations.
President Zuma promised that within the coming years, the South African government would work its hardest to improve access to water, electricity and clinics, as well as increase the rate of employment.
Human Rights Day was a day of remembrance and celebration, as well as a time to show how South Africa has become a beacon of hope for countries fighting human rights violations across the globe.
– Mollie O’Brien