– by Nkosingiphile Ntshangase
Human rights deserve more than a day of recognition, as it is our daily life. The 21st of March is a day commemorated in South Africa to acknowledge and honour those who fought for our liberation and the rights we have the privilege of enjoying today. Various political leaders made sacrifices during the Apartheid era, and many accomplishments were achieved due to this. The theme for 2021 is: The year of unity, socio-economic renewal and nation-building. Our country has a tumultuous history with a segregated society that debilitated the nation over the years. In the democratic era, South Africa’s focus should be to grow and heal from the wound left by the laws enforced during segregation.
According to the Parliament of South Africa, “In 1948 the National Party came to power in South Africa and formalised segregation in a succession of laws that gave the government control over the movement of Black people in urban areas. The Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952 narrowed the definition of Blacks with permanent residence in towns and cities. Legally, no Black person could leave a rural area for an urban one without a permit from the local authorities and on arrival in an urban area”.
These oppressive and racist laws caused unrest within the Black community over time, leading to consistent protests during the 1960s. A pivotal point, now known as the “Sharpeville massacre”, happened on the 21st of March 1960, which took many lives as they were marching and protesting against pass laws. This tragedy had a ripple effect across the country as many more protests erupted to expose the government’s violation of human right’s to world media.
Upon the abolition of Apartheid in 1994, the 21st of March was declared a national public holiday. This day is acknowledged annually to pay homage to those who lost their lives while standing up against discrimination. It also serves to raise awareness of the importance of human rights and the protection thereof and reinforce our commitment to the Bill of Rights as a country. We are fortunate to have a Constitution that is as progressive as our own, as it is the ultimate protector of our fundamental human rights and a privilege reserved to a minority pre-1994. In the future, our responsibility is to uphold the Constitution’s values that encourage social cohesion, denounce racially motivated intolerances, xenophobia and gender-based violence. We need to kickstart a social re-engineering movement for generations to come that focuses on humanity, dignity, respect and equality.