The Human Rights Day South Africa is celebrated every year on the March, 21st. This day was affirmed as a public holiday following the inauguration of the late president Nelson Mandela in 1994. But, what is Human Rights Day in South Africa and what facts surround this day? Read on to find out!
Why is March 21st an important date in South Africa? March 21st is a significant date in SA because it not only commemorates the sacrifices by its heroes to attain democracy but also venerates the new constitutional directive that recognizes and guarantees equal rights to all its citizens. As citizens get ready to celebrate the Human Rights Day South Africa 2019, we take a look at 10 facts that you ought to know about this holiday.
10 facts on Human Rights Day history
What happened on Human Rights Day in South Africa? Here are 10 amazing facts about this special day, as well as Human Rights Day pictures that answer this question as well as others.
1. Human Rights Day pays tributes to the events at Sharpeville
One Monday on March 21st, 1960, a group of about 5000 to 7000 protesters gathered at the Sharpeville police station with the aim of protesting the pass laws. These laws required black people to carry passbooks (also referred to as Dompas) at all times and show it to any police officer when requested. So, on this fateful day, all the black people agreed to show up without their passbook in what seemed like a peaceful protest.
2. Several were injured and killed during the Sharpeville Massacre
During the protest at Sharpeville, the police, without being given any official orders, decided to open fire on the protesters, killing 69 and maiming/wounding 180 others. Various sources were at loggerheads on the behavior of the crowd during that day. Some sources claimed that that the shooting began when the protesters hurled stones at the police officers, while other sources state that the crowd was peaceful.
The Sharpeville Bloodbath became the biggest single massacre of black individuals during the apartheid regime of the National Party. Even though it took South Africa nearly 3 decades before Apartheid was permanently abolished, the events of Sharpeville became pivotal in the fight for freedom for most South Africans. Ian Berry was one of the photographers of the Massacre and with Humphrey Tyler from the Drum, they recount that, at first, they thought the police were only firing blanks to disperse the crowds. Here are some of the Sharpeville massacre pictures as obtained from Twitter.
Click the link to view the Sharpeville massacre video.
3. Human rights day goes beyond answering the ten questions about the pass law
The Pass laws were formalized by the National Party via the Native Laws amendment ACT of 1952. According to this law, blacks and whites were segregated in different cities and towns. Lawfully, a black South African could not move from a rural area to an urban center without obtaining a permit from the local government. The permit also was known as a passbook or a reference book that had the holder’s picture and other details like residence, tax payments, criminal records, and employment records. Blacks were required to obtain the passbook within three days before seeking out work in the urban areas.
The Passbook evolved into a humiliating experience for the black who were required to be in possession of it at all times. Failure to produce the document will result in arrest and detainment on spot. As such, the events on March 21st were more than a protest against the Dompas laws as it led the movement for South Africans to claim their human rights and put an end to apartheid.
4. Human Rights Day spearheaded the creation of the Bill of Rights which is the foundation of democracy in SA
What is the meaning of Human Rights Day in South Africa? Because of March 21st, the state must safeguard, promote, honour and fulfil all the Bill of Rights. Such rights include the right to equality, human dignity, freedom, security, political rights, freedom of expression, personal privacy, freedom of association, right to education, freedom from slavery, servitude and forced labour, right to citizenship, and the right to protest, picket, and petition.
5. The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) under its leader Robert Sobukwe instigated the anti-pass movement
It was Robert Sobukwe who urged crowds of men, women, and children to stand against the pass law. The protesters were to show up without their reference books and present themselves for arrest. Following an order to disperse from the police officers, they started firing at the crowds. Mr. Robert who was 34 years at the time was a professor at Wits University. Sobukwe was leading a march to the Orlando Police station when news of the massacre at Sharpeville reached him.
6. Why is Human Rights Day celebrated on the 21st of March?
The African National Congress inaugurated March 21st as the National SA Human Rights Day. Is Human Rights Day a public holiday in South Africa? In 1994, after Nelson Mandela was elected as the first democratic president of South Africa, he included March 21st as one of the public holidays in the country. It then became a date when citizens are urged to reflect on their rights and be conscious of how to safeguard themselves from such violations. Awareness of the National Human Rights Day has led to a number of Human Rights Day quotes such as the one shown in the image below.
7. What was Human Rights Day called before?
Human Rights Day was also referred to as Sharpeville Day because it remembers the 69 who were murdered and 180 who were injured while fighting for their human rights in 1960. Additionally, this special day commemorates anti-apartheid activists like Steve Biko and Olive Tambo that fought and died for the country’s democracy.
8. South Africa’s Human Rights Day coincides with the UN International Day for the elimination of racism
9. The fate of the leader of the anti-pass law movement
After the events at Sharpeville, Sobukwe was imprisoned on Robben Island. He was later released and expelled to Kimberley where he died in 1970 after being diagnosed with cancer.
10. When did human rights start in South Africa?
The 26-year struggle from March 21st, 1960 culminated the end of Apartheid in 1986. As a result, March 21st came to be Human Rights Day as it was the day when black South Africans became aggressive of their rights. Immediately after the Sharpeville Massacre, Hendricks was prompted to ban ANC and PAC.
How is Human Rights Day celebrated in South Africa today?
There are various ways to mark this date. South Africans can travel with their loved ones if the day falls on a Friday, they can go eat meals at their favourite restaurants, watch a movie, visit a library, tour a wine field among other activities.
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With the Human Rights Day South Africa, citizens are free to move around and celebrate the day any way they deem fit unlike six decades ago when the movement between rural and urban areas was restricted. Share with us how you will be celebrating this public holiday in 2019 in the comments section below.