On 21 March 1960, 69 people died and 180 were wounded in the events that occurred in Sharpeville, South Africa. Despite this, this date became one that marked the unison of ordinary South Africans as they proclaimed their rights and protested against the pass laws enacted by the apartheid government.
According to the South African Human Rights Commission, the pass laws were originally enacted by the apartheid government to restrict and control the travel movements of black South Africans. These laws required all black South Africans to carry a pass known as a “dompas” with them at all times and prevented them from spending long periods of time in what were then considered as white areas.
UNICEF refers to human rights as the standard that allows for the recognition and protection of the dignity of all human beings. According to the South African Parliament website, the Bill of Rights sets out a large proportion of the human rights guaranteed to South Africans and foreigners within the country. These rights include the right to life, the right to human dignity, and the right to equality, to name a few.
When Nelson Mandela came into power in May 1994, he declared 21 March a public holiday in commemoration of the lives lost and as a reminder of the importance human rights play within the South African society. Consequently, Human Rights Day now serves as a reminder of our rights and the cost that was paid for such rights to be granted.
Today, Human Rights Day serves as a celebration for many South Africans. On this day, all South Africans are urged to reflect on their rights and to protect them, as well as the rights of others, from violation. Happy Human Rights Day.
Illustration: Jaime Lamb