March 21, 2022

3 Facts about Human Rights Day

From the farthest reaches of the earth to the corner of your neighbourhood, every single person in the world has basic rights and freedoms which they are born with and will die with.

In South Africa, our Constitution enshrines the rights of people from all walks of life in our country. Per the terms of the Bill of Rights, every living person has the right to life, equality and human dignity, as well as the right to citizenship, privacy, movement, freedom of speech and religious beliefs, and basic amenities such as healthcare, housing, and food and water.

Hence, we commemorate Human Rights Day on 21 March to remind ourselves of the rights and freedoms that we have now, which were denied to millions of people across the country during a tumultuous time in South Africa’s history.

Here are three facts you should know about Human Rights Day:

Remembering Sharpeville

As mentioned, Human Rights Day falls on 21 March, which marks the event known as the “Sharpeville Massacre”.

In 1960, about 7 000 people gathered together outside a police station in Sharpeville to peacefully protest against South Africa’s oppressive pass laws. Alas, the police opened fire on the crowd, killing 69 protesters and wounding 180.

Today, we commemorate those who were slain during the Sharpeville Massacre, as well as commemorate those who were there that day to stand up and fight for our rights – especially those who have been fighting for our rights from the beginning and to the end of South Africa’s Apartheid regime at the risk of their lives.

Thanks to them, we are able to exercise our rights and enjoy our freedoms that we have today.

The Bill of Rights

South Africa’s democracy is built on the foundation of the Bill of Rights, which by law protects “all people from violation, irrespective of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, whether they are foreign national or not”, according to Parliament.

It’s also lauded as one of the most progressive Bills in the world: in 1996, South Africa became the first country in the world to enshrine rights for members of the LGBT+ community.

Celebrating Human Rights Day

Whether through oppression or by some other means, many people don’t know and/or fully understand their rights, or they may not know the gravity of the significance behind 21 March.

As such, South Africans are strongly encouraged to (re)acquaint themselves with, and subsequently reflect upon, our history. There are many fantastic ways to do this:

– Watching movies and/or documentaries such as “Sharpeville Echoes” and “Sharpeville Spirit”
– Going on family outings to museums such as the District Six Museum in Cape Town or the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.
– Listening to historical podcasts and radio segments dedicated to Human Rights Day or the Apartheid regime in general.
– Visiting your local library to read textbooks, biographies and autobiographies relating to this time.
– Volunteering your services to community charity projects to make a difference in the lives of people whose rights have been violated and/or denied to them.
– Reading up on your rights and freedoms at your local library or online.