Why we commemorate and not celebrate March 21

The national Human Rights Day is celebrated annually in South Africa, on the 21st of March. To many South Africans this day is not just a holiday but a commemoration of heroes and heroines who died fighting for the rights of the people.

On this day in 1960 in Sharpeville, Cape Town, a group of unarmed freedom fighters gathered in protest against pass laws when police opened fire, killing 69 people injuring 180.The pass laws required Africans to produce a “dompass” at all times, failure to do so would lead one to jail.

This year the country commemorates Human Rights Month under the theme of “The Year of Indigenous Languages: Promoting and Deepening a Human Rights Culture”  at George Thabe Cricket Pitch, Sharpeville in Vereeniging, where the massacre took place in 1960.

When apartheid was finally defeated following the 1994 elections, the Constituent Assembly adopted a constitution with the Bill of Rights, and the South African government declared the day as Human Rights Day.

According to the constitutional Bill of Rights these rights include, the right to equality, human dignity, life, freedom and security, privacy, freedom of expression, political rights, children, education, healthcare, food, water and social security just to name a few.

That was the reason for the protest. To attain equal rights and opportunities.

One of the most significant leaders of the struggle for the recognition of rights for all South Africans, Nelson Mandela, spent more than 27 years in prison for this cause.His last words before the judge sentenced him summed up what the struggle was all about.

”I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die,” said Mandela at the time.

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