South Africa: celebrations for Human Rights day

This Sunday, 21 March 2010, all of South Africa celebrated Human Rights Day.

Due to a unique history, South Africans have a keen appreciation for Human Rights.
On 21 March every year South Africa celebrate Human Rights Day by remembering and honouring those who died for all to enjoy these rights, as expressed in the preamble of the South African constitution:

We, the people of South Africa
Recognise the injustices of our past
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country, and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.


South Africans cannot forget 21 March 1960, when a mass protest against the restrictive Apartheid laws was orchestrated. The protest was against the Pass Laws which required all Africans living or working in and around towns or cities to carry with them at all time a document (known as a pass), giving them permission to be in a certain area. Failure to carry this document would lead to arrest by the police and sometimes people were banned or sent away from the towns in which they worked or lived.

For this anti-pass campaign it was proposed that all those obligated to carry a pass should go to their nearest police stations without their passes and demand to be arrested. The idea was that the police would be so overwhelmed and police holding cells would not be able to hold the sheer number of people thus making it impossible to enforce the law and making the country so ungovernable that the Apartheid Government would have to listen and scrap the Pass Laws.

At Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, thousands of people gathered at the police station demanding to be arrested. After protestors somehow broke through the police station fence, the police opened fire on the crowd. Sixty-nine innocent people were killed and 180 injured by the shooting.

There were also smaller but significant incidences at other locations across that day. The Sharpeville incident is used in memory of all those who protested, suffered and died for the restoration of Human Rights in South Africa on 21 March 1960 and all the days of struggle up to the dawn of Democracy in 1994.

During South Africa’s transition into Democracy and during the formulation of the Constitution, the protection of human rights and the restoration of human dignity were the key drivers of transformation and no compromise was acceptable. Sharpeville day was renamed Human Rights Day and instituted as a national public holiday. The Bill of Rights, Chapter Two of the South African Constitution is the cornerstone of its Democracy and instrumental in realising the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.

A Human Rights Commission was set up by the South African Constitution to promote respect for human rights, to monitor and assess the observance of human rights in South Africa.

According to the United Nations:

“Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.”

On this 21 March 2010 once again South Africans took time to reflect and appreciate Human Rights since these inherent and basic rights did not come easily for the majority of South Africans and the country honoured the memory of those fellow South Africans that paid the ultimate price for freedom. South Africans also remember that still today in various locations in the world many fellow human beings are still fighting to enjoy some these basic rights. South Africans would like to extend to these human beings solidarity and the hope that one day soon they will also taste freedom.

Issued by the South African Embassy in Rome – 22 March 2010

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