August 20, 2017

Human Rights Day in the Republic of South Africa: 21 March

 

By H.E. Mr. Vusi Bruce Koloane Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Human Rights Day is a national day that is commemorated annually on 21 March to remind South Africans about the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for the attainment of democracy in South Africa.

This year’s commemoration took place under the theme: “The Year of OR Tambo: Unity in action in advancing Human Rights”. President Jacob Zuma gave a key note address at the Human Rights Day celebrations which was held in Victoria Sports Ground, King Williams Town, Eastern Cape.

Why Human Rights Day?

The historical basis of Human Rights Day is attributed to the Sharpeville Massacre that took place on 21 March 1960 as residents of Sharpeville and citizens across the country, embarked on protest marches against pass laws (required Africans to carry pass books (Dompas) and produce them to law enforcement officials on request).The apartheid police shot and killed 69 of the protesters at Sharpeville and many other people were killed in other parts of the country.  The tragedy came to be known as the Sharpeville Massacre and it exposed the apartheid government’s deliberate violation of human rights to the world. These events mobilized the international community into action against the apartheid government.  The United Nations (UN) subsequently declared 21 March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The democratic government of South African declared 21 March as Human Rights Day in which the country celebrates South Africa’s transition to a democratic system that honours and respects human rights, and the Human Rights Month of March is used to promote the country’s Constitution which, among other things, enshrines human rights in a Bill of Rights. South Africans shall be perpetually indebted to all the anti-apartheid organisations, movements and Governments that contributed both material and political support to the struggle against the worst form of human degradation of the then Apartheid Government. We have a moral obligation to both the South Africans, the former anti-apartheid movement, Africa and the international community , to uphold the values of humanity and all that it represents.

As South Africans we use this National day each year not only to remind our people of the tragic past, but also most importantly, to highlight the need to ensure that we promote and consolidate our human rights culture and democracy as entrenched in our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

These rights include:

  • Equality – everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.
  • Human dignity – everyone has inherent dignity and have their dignity respected and protected.
  • Freedom of movement and residence – everyone has a right to freedom of movement and to reside anywhere in the country.
  • Language and culture – everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice.
  • Life – everyone has the right to life.

As indicated above the theme of Human Rights this year is “The year of OR Tambo: Unity in Action in Advancing Human Rights”. This year South Africa is celebrating the life of a liberator, teacher, intellectual, internationalist and a unifier who kept the liberation movement together and in focus during the during the most difficult moments in our struggle.

Mr OR Tambo strove for unity at all times and this inspires all democracy and human right respecting citizens to work together to achieve a vision of a truly united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa. Our Constitution enshrines the socio-economic rights such as health, education, food, water and social security. It thus becomes of paramount importance that we continue advancing the National Development Plan that seeks to eliminate the ugly head of unemployment and poverty whilst ushering in economic emancipation to ensure no future treat of these highly upheld human rights values. We have made great strides in these areas and yet more still needs to be done. Together with our international partners we have proved that nothing is impossible by destroying apartheid, and we again make a call to the international community to partner with South Africa and Africa as we go through this journey.

Government hosted various activities throughout Human Rights Month to remind all South Africans of the noble need to continue working together to uphold the culture of human rights. Human Rights come with responsibilities and we all have the responsibility to build a society that respects the rule of law. As citizens of South Africa we need to ensure that our human rights record and history are preserved and strengthened for future generations.

As South Africans, we mark Human Rights Day every year for important reasons. South Africa comes from a history where there was a scant regard for fundamental human rights. So it is most fitting that as a country we pause every year and remember the past so as to learn from it and never to repeat the same wrongs. On human rights day we also take stock of progress made in the promotion of human rights. We further recommit ourselves to advance the fundamental human rights and the restoration of human dignity to the black people in particular, who were brutalized and dehumanized by the twin systems of colonialism and apartheid. It is sad that some criminal elements in our country have advanced their criminal activities under the guise of Xenophobia, looting the businesses of fellow Africans and diaspora earning an honest living, an act that Government strongly condemned.

Our Constitution enshrines the socio-economic rights such as health, education, food, water and social security. It thus becomes of paramount importance that we continue advancing the National Development Plan that seeks to eliminate the ugly head of unemployment and poverty whilst ushering in economic emancipation to ensure no future treat of these highly upheld human rights values. We have made great strides in these areas and yet more still needs to be done. Together with our international partners we have proved that nothing is impossible by destroying apartheid, and we again make a call to the international community to partner with South Africa and Africa as we go through this journey.

Government hosted various activities throughout Human Rights Month to remind all South Africans of the noble need to continue working together to uphold the culture of human rights. Human Rights come with responsibilities and we all have the responsibility to build a society that respects the rule of law. As citizens of South Africa we need to ensure that our human rights record and history are preserved and strengthened for future generations.

 

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