The COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to hold the usual political party rallies to mark Human Rights Day. Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of a national state of disaster on Sunday, gatherings of more than 100 people have been banned.

However, this has not deterred political bodies, who are still reaching out on multiple platforms with their message to commemorate the Sharpville Massacre of 1960.

Since 1994, Human Rights Day has stood as a milestone on South Africa’s public holiday calendar. This is when the 69 people gunned by the apartheid government in Sharpeville, south of Johannesburg on the 21st of March 1960, are remembered.

2020 however is different. With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing measures have necessitated the cancellation of the usual mass gatherings. Those who fell in the fight against the pass laws however will continue to be remembered, with political parties reaching out through multimedia platforms.

Leader of the Freedom Front Plus, Pieter Groenwald, says Human Rights Day is there to remind us to respect each and everyone’s human rights.

“At the moment, we are threatened with the coronavirus and everyone is standing together despite their differences. That is actually proof that we can stand together to fight a specific threat, stand together and have respect for each and everyone’s human rights and we will become a winning nation.”

Protect institutions

Deputy President of the African Christian Democratic Party, Wayne Thring, says the day should remind South Africans of the responsibilities that come with their hard won rights.

“The right to water, the right to housing and the right to education come also with responsibilities and I urge all South Africans to protect the institutions that have been given to us in education, in health and in other government institutions. It is our responsibility as we have these rights to protect these institutions as well.”

Emulate 1960 heroes

Hanif Hendricks of the Al Jama Party says the occasion should be used to emulate the heroes of 1960 by adhering to the regulations to fight the spread of the pandemic.

“We wish all South Africans all the strength on human rights day as they battle with this new threat to our democracy and our personal lives and the lives of our neighbours and the lives of our community.”

There are those that say they would not be celebrating the day even if there was no COVID-19 pandemic. Among them is the Congress of the People spokesperson Denis Bloem.

“Thousands of people are sitting without water, toilets, proper streets, unemployment not having food to eat and going to bed on a hungry stomach. Our health care facilities have collapsed; how can we celebrate this day when corruption is the order of the day in South Africa?”

Reminder of where we come from

UDM Leader Bantu Holomisa says Human Rights Day must remind us of where we are coming from and where we must still go.

“Human Rights Day in this country will always remind us of our past that is characterised by misuse of power by the powers that be then which lead to many deaths in this country. The challenges facing us is to address the backlogs and imbalances caused by the oppressive regimes over the past decades in South Africa.”

South Africans should come together

DA Leader John Steenhuizen, the day is ironic in the face of the current restrictions.

“What it’s going to require on this Human Rights Day is the best of all South Africans to come together. Protecting and defending those rights is going to be difficult, they are going to have to be curtailed in the face of this virus if we are going to contain it and so while some of the measures that government is putting in place may seem draconian, when one looks at the experience of other countries in combatting it, they are absolutely necessary.”

One South Africa Movement leader Mmusi Maimane will be commemorating Human Rights Day in Mfuleni, Cape Town. The movement partnered with NGO Ithate MoAfrika to launch a “Stop COVID-19” campaign.

Maimane is set to distribute over 5000 litres of hand sanitizers to Mfuleni residents.

In the video below, political parties say that they will not be hosting rallies as a measure to combat the spread of COVID-19.