Human Rights Day in South Africa is historically linked with 21 March 1960 and the events of Sharpeville. On that day, 69 people died, and 180 were wounded when police fired on a peaceful crowd gathered in protest against the Pass laws. This day exposed the Apartheid government’s actions to the world. The democratic government declared this day as Human Rights Day in South Africa to pay homage to all those that lost their lives in the struggle for freedom. Today, South Africa’s Human Rights constitution is seen as one of the most progressive in the world – Human Rights Day is also a day to reinforce the commitment to the bill of rights introduced. 

When South Africa held its first democratic election, with Nelson Mandela elected as its first democratic President, Human Rights Day was officially proclaimed a public holiday.

On Human Rights 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.

We must remain vigilant and report abuse and cruelty, such as human trafficking, child labour, forced labour and violence against women, children, and the aged and other vulnerable groupings of people.

What are your rights?

In terms of the Bill of Rights, everyone has a right to life, equality and human dignity.

  • All persons have a right to citizenship and security. Persons and groups are entitled to freedom of assembly, association, belief and opinion, and expression. They have the right to demonstrate, picket and petition; everyone has the right to be free from forced labour, servitude and slavery.
  • All persons have a right to privacy and exercise political rights; all have a right to access information and just administration action. Furthermore, all persons have the right to equality – Everyone has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law, i.e., they have rights when arrested, detained and accused, and must have access to courts.
  • All have a right to freedom of movement and residence and of trade, occupation and profession. Everyone has a right to engage in trade unions and labour movements in the workplace. Anyone has the right to purchase property anywhere and to basic education. They have a right to language and culture, and communities; and not least, freedom of religion and belief. The Bill of Rights also specifies the rights of persons belonging to cultural, religious or linguistic communities and the rights of children. In addition, there are specific laws to safeguard women and protect children.
  • Protected rights include a healthy environment, housing, health care, food, water and social security.
  • All persons have a right to human dignity. Everyone will have their dignity respected and protected.
  • All persons have a right to language and culture. Therefore, everyone can speak the language and participate in the culture of their choice.
  • Lastly, all persons have a right to life. Everyone has a right to life.

Human Rights Day marked an affirmation by ordinary people, rising in unison to proclaim their rights. Today, it became an iconic date in our country’s history commemorated as Human Rights Day as a reminder of our rights and the cost paid for our treasured human rights. We must never forget the price that was paid!!

Author: Eleanor Samsodien 


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