South Africa will commemorate Human Rights Day on Monday, 21 March 2022 under the theme “The Year of Unity and Renewal: Protecting and Preserving our Human Rights Gain.”
In this article, we revisit some important historical facts behind Human Rights Day and their significances.
Human Rights Day is inspired by events that took place on the 21st of March 1960 in Sharpeville. On that day, 69 people died and 180 were wounded when police fired on a peaceful crowd that had gathered in protest against Pass laws.
The day became an iconic date in South African history, and a reminder of the cost paid for our human rights.
The Pass Laws Act of 1952 required black South Africans over the age of 16 to carry a passbook, also referred to as a ‘dompas’ everywhere and at all times.
South African History Online further states that Pass Laws were a system used to control the movement of Black, Indian and Coloured people in South Africa.
The pass stated which areas a person was allowed to move through or be in; and if a person was found outside of these areas, they would be arrested.
Anti-pass laws campaign
Resistance of the Pass Laws began to accelerate in 1960. The African National Congress (ANC) had declared that the year was going to be the “Year of the Pass”, with a national campaign set to launch on 31 March.
A breakaway group of the ANC, Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) proposed an anti-Pass campaign to begin on 21 March 1960.
On that day, black men gathered at Sharpeville without their passes and presented themselves for arrest. An order was given to disperse, after which the Police opened fire on the crowd of men, women and children.
Following the Sharpeville massacre, a number of black political movements were banned by the Nationalist government, but the resistance movement continued to operate underground.
Other protests and killings on 21 March
- Robert Sobukwe left his house in Mofolo, Soweto, and began walking to the Orlando police station, where he was joined by small groups on the way of people joining him.
- In Pretoria, a small group of six people presented themselves at the Hercules police station.
- Small groups of PAC activists presented themselves at police stations in Durban and East London. However, the police simply took down the protesters’ names and did not arrest anyone.
- When the news of the Sharpeville Massacre reached Cape Town, a large group of protestors gathered at the Langa Flats bus terminus, in direct defiance of the government’s country-wide ban on public gatherings.
- The police ordered the crowd to disperse within 3 minutes. When protesters reconvened in defiance, the police charged at them with batons, tear gas and guns. Three people were killed, and 26 others were injured
Proclamation of holiday
When South Africa held its first democratic election, 21 March – Human Rights Day – was officially proclaimed a public holiday.
On the day, South Africans are asked to reflect on their rights, to protect their rights and the rights of all people from violation, irrespective of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, whether they are foreign national or not – human rights apply to everyone, equally.
For the past two years, South Africa has commemorated Human Rights Day virtually. This year, however, President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to open the Reagile Library in Koster, North West, ahead of his main speech on the day.
Human Rights Day celebrations will be hosted in the North West province.
More details in the report below: