“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity” – Nelson Mandela
Human Rights Day (21 March) was officially declared a public holiday in 1994 following the inauguration of former president Nelson Mandela. This national day-off is both a stark reminder of the tragic Sharpeville massacre and a celebration of South Africa’s unique constitution, which gives equal rights to all.
The Constitution provides for the establishment of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The aim of the Commission is to promote respect for human rights, promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights, and to monitor and assess the observance of human rights in SA. The SAHRC was launched on 21 March 1996, 35 years after the fateful events of 21 March 1960 when demonstrators in Sharpeville were gunned down by police.
The Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952 extended Government control over the movement of Africans to urban areas and abolished the use of the Pass Book (a document which Africans were required to carry on them to ‘prove’ that they were allowed to enter a ‘white area’) in favour of a reference book which had to be carried at all times by all Africans.
Failure to produce the reference book on demand by the police, was a punishable offence. The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) proposed an anti-Pass campaign to start on 21 March 1960. All African men were to take part in the campaign without their passes and present themselves for arrest.
Campaigners gathered at police stations in townships near Johannesburg where they were dispersed by police. At the Sharpeville police station a scuffle broke out. Part of a wire fence was trampled, allowing the crowd to move forward. The police opened fire, apparently without having been given a prior order to do so. Sixty-nine people were killed and 180 wounded.
In apartheid South Africa, this day became known as Sharpeville Day and although not part of the official calendar of public holidays the event was commemorated among anti-apartheid movements.
When you look at the history of this day, you cannot help but appreciate the freedom which has not come easy to so many people living in our beautiful country. The freedom to move, travel, speak our opinions and to participate as equals in the world is something to be proud as it was not easy to achieve. Some may see this day as just another public holiday where they can stay at home for a well deserved break without fully understanding the true meaning. However, once you educate yourself about what public holidays mean in South Africa, a sense of pride and achievement for the positive changes and growth of our people cannot be denied. We have so much to celebrate.
”Bless Africa, Guard her people, Guide her leaders, And give her peace” – Trevor Huddleston
We wish you a wonderful Human Rights day on the 21st March! – Skipper Bar