Beloved South Africa, Today Is Not Just A Public Holiday: Human Rights Day, Sharpeville Massacre

Today, 21 March 2018, South Africa observes Human Rights Day under the theme: “100 Years of Nelson Mandela: Promoting and deepening a human rights culture across society”. But it is not just any holiday.

Every year on this day South Africans remember the tragic events of 1960 that saw 69 South Africans brutally murdered and over 200 injured in Sharpeville, Vereeniging, by the apartheid regime, for demonstrating against pass laws.

Screenshot from Life Magazine, published one week after the Sharpeville Massacre: “The people ran and ran, but running was no escape… As the stampede began, some of the people were laughing at what they thought were blanks. By the time the last picture was made, there was no more laughter.”

The killings – known as the Sharpeville Massacre – took place on 21 March 1960 after thousands of anti-apartheid activists from Sharpeville and across the country protested against racial pass laws, which violated the basic human rights of black people.

Pass Book for Black people, 1960
Screenshot from Life magazine, 1960. At the time Black people needed to have their Passbooks on them at all times to prove payment of Head tax, to work, go on a trip, even sometimes to cross the street. “Caught without it, even in his own doorway, he has often gone to jail.”

South African humanitarian Catherine Constantinides tweeted: “My beloved South Africa, today is not just a public holiday. This is a moment in time for us to stop & reflect. Remember the lives of those who paid the ultimate price on this day in #Sharpeville ~ This is possibly among one of THE most important days commemorated #HumanRightsDay.”

Deputy President David Mabuza, who is leading official commemorations while President Cyril Ramaphosa is out of the country, said South Africa should use Human Rights Month to reflect on the dreams and aspirations of Madiba, which include the respect of basic human rights and commitment to the rule of law.

SAPeople follower Sherrelle Swartbooi: “To all South Africans who died for our freedom! Today we remember the struggles of our people, the torture, the pain, the human indignity we suffered under Apartheid. Today we are also grateful that we could free ourselves from the human indignity! #RespectToAllWhoFoughtForFreedom”

The Deputy President called on South Africans to work together to build a more inclusive economy that truly reflects the demographics of the country to ensure equal economic rights and to ensure that the “wealth of the country is shared equally”.

He also called on South Africans to unite in the fight against racism‚ racial discrimination‚ xenophobia and related intolerance on all fronts.

Together we can confront racism and move our country towards a completely non-racial society. Government calls on all South Africans to use Human Rights Month to foster social cohesion, nation building and our national identity,” he said.

The ANC said in a statement Wednesday morning that “21 March 1960 marked a pivotal moment in the struggle for liberation that was to shift the future trajectory of this country and put it on a path towards freedom.

“This day further gives us a moment to reflect on the sacrifices made by many men and women who came before us and paid the ultimate price to ensure that today we are able to enjoy the fundamental rights as enshrined in our Constitution.”

In reaffirming its commitment to building a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society, the ANC quoted the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s words:

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice; it is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life…”

The ANC called for South Africans to stand against all forms of discrimination, and to particularly “protect the rights of people living with albinism who form part of the marginalized and vulnerable sections of our society”.

The ANC said: “As we celebrate Human Rights Day, let us draw inspiration from Cde Nelson Mandela, who selected to sign into law the country’s constitution in Sharpeville thus affirming our commitment to work together to overcome the challenges we face and restore the dignity of all South Africans.”

Bill of Rights on Human Rights Day.
Supplied by Sherrelle Swartbooi

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