Most public holidays in South Africa hold great historic significance as they serve as remembrances of a painful history as well as reminders of the long road ahead. Human Rights Day is one such day that serves as a moment of reflection & commemoration for those who lost their lives in the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960. The events of 21 March 1960, which started as a peaceful march in protest of the Apartheid pass laws, turned into one of the most tragic human massacres when the police opened fire into the crowd, killing 69 people.
This day marked a major turning point in South African history as it resulted in an intensified armed struggle for liberation from the brutality and inhumanity of Apartheid. The historic events of this day was spear-headed by the revolutionary leaders of the Pan-African Congress which launched its own anti-pass campaign; alongside the African National Congress, (often unnamed) Black civil organisations and communities, a series of mass actions swept the country in name of defiance to Apartheid pass laws.
In 2017, Human Rights day should also serve as an important reminder as to how far South Africa still has to go with regards to ensuring the protection of Human Rights of ALL those who live in it. All people of this land have the right to human dignity, equality and freedom; yet only those of privilege and power are ensured the protection of these so-called inalienable human rights. This day serves as an important reminder that, while our liberation struggle attended to the needs of the time, that our journey to true freedom and equality is far from over.
On human rights day, may we be reminded of the plight of workers in South Africa who still remain subjected to inhumane working conditions & low wages. May we remember the miners of Marikana who lost their lives in the fight for human dignity and the right to a better life; the miners, whom till this day, have yet to see justice.
On this day, we should also reflect on the progress made in the protection of Human Rights on the African continent. May we hold our leaders accountable in paving the way towards the protection of human rights in war-torn countries on the African continent.
On this day, may we be reminded of systemic inequality as reflected in the education system and the plight of students fighting for quality decolonised Afrocentric education. The position of youth and children under the Bill of Rights deserves special mention. Our children are our future and every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services, social services and education. The crisis in both Basic and Tertiary education should be promptly addressed to ensure that these rights are protected.
In face of a Gender crisis, may we be reminded of the struggle for Gender justice & the plight of the LGBTQIAP+ community who, till this day, face structural and compounded human rights violations. Let this day serve as a reminder that more needs to be done to address the systemic & root causes of gender-based violence and gender injustice in South Africa.
On this day, may we be reminded of the plight of immigrants, refugees, economic migrants & asylum seekers who are stripped of their human rights and dignity due to Afrophobic attitudes and violence. In South Africa, we experience a very specific kind of xenophobia, targeted at African foreign nationals, which can be attributed to South Africa’s long history of apartheid and racism. Afrophobia undermines the ideology of Pan-Africanism, which speaks to a united Africa and an Africa without borders. IJR would like to appeal to the South African Government, and provincial administrations, which have a Constitutional obligation to protect the human dignity and safety of all those living in South Africa.
May we remain committed to ensuring the protection of human rights of all vulnerable members of society; those who face atrocious human rights violations and are often overlooked. These include the elderly, women, gender-queer/gender-nonconforming people, and members of the LGBTQIAP+ community at large, children, the disabled, the terminally ill, the working class, the poor, the homeless and the dispossessed.
Human Rights Day is a commemoration, but prospectively it continues to mark the rights enshrined in our constitution that are as important and relevant now as they were in 1994. It is the events of the past & the uncertainty of the future that presents a stark reminder that now, more than ever before, our national commitment to human rights should be prioritised going forward. It is on this note that the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation calls upon all South Africans to join in on Building Fair, Democratic and Inclusive Societies.
Jodi Williams and Gugu Nonjinge
Communications and Advocacy Officers at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation
Samantha Kambule (021) 202 478