In terms of the Bill of Rights, which is regarded as the cornerstone of our constitution, every human being in the Democratic Republic of South Africa is entitled to equal human rights and may not be subjugated to oppression, abuse or discrimination, which is a violation of their rights. The country’s constitution ensures these rights are upheld and respected and protects the rights of everyone.
Human Rights Day is symbolically placed on the 21st of March because the country had its first democratic election on the very same day in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected as the country’s first democratic president signifying the end of Apartheid and racial prejudice in the country. The day is also historically linked to the events of the Sharpsville Massacre, which occurred on the 21st of March when the police opened fire on peaceful protesters who were demonstrating against racist pass laws which subjugated them to oppression and restriction. The legacy of the Sharpsville Massacre is commemorated as Human Rights Day, celebrating an iconic date when ordinary people united to fight for their rights. The day is one of the most historically significant days in our country because of the impact it had on our nation and on the struggle against the Apartheid Regime.
The Significance of the Day
For many years, obtaining equal human rights has been a challenge for many South Africans who lived under an oppressive apartheid regime which sought to minimise the liberties of black people, implementing many prejudiced laws and policies. Other people had more human rights than others under the Apartheid regime. Black people were deprived of many rights in South Africa, including the right to vote, access to quality education and equal opportunities such as employment. Human Rights Day is a celebration of our freedom and democracy. On this day, we reflect on our rights as a country, and we look at the past and honour those who sacrificed their lives for us, enabling us to enjoy the right we currently have.
The Fight to have Equal Rights
Many activists and political parties fought against this regime that divided the country into races and deprived many people of basic human rights. Thousands of people sacrificed their lives fighting against the brutal system which committed many atrocities to implement its racist laws. The police force was mobilised as enforces of the apartheid regime and targeted those who disagreed or spoke out against the government. Many people were unlawfully imprisoned and kept inside prison without evidence or being prosecuted. Many prisoners disappeared without a trace and their bodies were never recovered.
Today we emphasize the importance of human rights, their impact on our society and how they shape our world. The day seeks to readdress past human rights violations by educating and informing people about their basic human rights and how to implement and protect these rights against perpetrators.