Considering the traumatising history in South Africa, it has made incredible strides in just over 3 decades.

Human Rights Day is a significant commemoration that serves as an honest reminder of how hard freedom fighters fought to transform South Africa into the forward-thinking, democratic, diverse and inclusive society that it continues growing into daily.

Historically, National Human Rights Day is linked with 21st March 1960 to the tragic events of the Sharpeville Massacre. The decade of the ’60s in South Africa is defined by the systematic defiance against apartheid and racism nationally.  Apartheid police opened fire on a crowd peacefully protesting against pass laws leaving 69 dead and 180 wounded.

This particular day impacted the globe and annually, the world takes a moment to reflect on 21st  March which has also been dubbed the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The atrocities of South Africa’s past have become a deeply entrenched reminder of what violating human rights looks like.  From that place of wrong has evolved the South African Constitution which is hailed as the most progressive in the world.

As quoted from the South African Constitution, negotiated by many including Archbishop Desmond Tutu who recently passed away, and the current President, Cyril Ramaphosa. 

Some of the rights include:

  • Equality – everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.
  • Human dignity – everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.
  • Freedom of movement and residence – everyone has a right to freedom of movement and to reside anywhere in the country.
  • Language and culture – everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice.
  • Life – everyone has the right to life.

The evolution of Human Rights within South Africa has given rise to brave, strong young voices and figures that continue fighting for an end to violence, crime and hate speech. These voices also fight for diversity, equity and inclusivity in all dimensions of life.

With a global outlook, today as we remember what our nation has undergone, our thoughts are also with all the families and citizens of Ukraine. May our own past experiences have us raise our voices for our people as well as all deserving people across the world.

As we take a moment to reflect on the history of Human Rights Day in South Africa, may it inspire us to pioneer a future that truly embodies the rights, laid out in our ground-breaking Constitution, for every nation the world over.

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