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 that had gathered in protest against the Pass laws. This day marked an affirmation by ordinary people, rising in unison to proclaim their rights. It became an iconic date in our country’s history that on this day South Africa commemorates as Human Rights Day as a reminder of our rights and the cost paid for our treasured human rights.
Human rights are rights that everyone should have simply because they are human. In 1948, the United Nations defined 30 articles of human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It established universal human rights based on humanity, freedom, justice, and peace.
South Africa has included indivisible human rights in our own Bill of Rights, Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. The articles of our Constitution can only be changed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament, which means it is difficult for anyone, including the government, to take away the basic rights of a citizen.
In 1948 the Nationalist 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, the person had to obtain a permit within 72 hours to seek work. The Reference Book, or Pass, included a photograph, details of place of origin, employment record, tax payments, and encounters with the police.
In 1956 women from all walks of life, protested against the racist Pass laws, when 20,000 women marched to the Union Building in Pretoria, singing “wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo – you strike a woman, you strike a rock”.
The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) proposed an anti-Pass campaign to begin on 21 March 1960. Black men gathered at Sharpeville without passes and presented themselves for arrest. The order was given to disperse, after which the police opened fire on the crowd of men, women, and children. Following the Sharpeville massacre, several black political movements were banned by the Nationalist government, but the resistance movement continued to operate underground.
When South Africa held its first democratic election, with Nelson Mandela elected as its first democratic President, 21 March, 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. Everyone must remain vigilant and report abuse and cruelty.
It is for these reasons that, on Thursday, 17 March 2022, the University of Venda (UNIVEN) Student Representative Council (SRC) held an event to commemorate the lives of the fighters who fought for Human Rights that are enjoyed by South Africans today. This commemoration event took place at the University Sports Hall.
SRC Secretary General, Mr Junior Magagula told attendees that every citizen of this country is tasked to protect Chapter 2 of the Constitution. Chapter 2 sets out the Bill of Rights, arguably the part of the Constitution that has had the greatest impact on peoples’ daily lives. The first words of the chapter say: “This Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa.” Magagula said in order to do that, we all need to know and understand Chapter 2 of the Constitution.
He encouraged students to participate in the law making of students’ policies because they are set to be governing them. “Make sure that those policies are what students want.”
Students were also addressed by the Solicitor-General, Mr Fhedzisani Pandelani from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. In his Keynote address, Mr Pandelani indicated that although since 1994 South Africa has made progress in addressing certain iniquities relating to education, students should be conscientised that the fight for justice, freedom, truth and dignity is inalienable. He said though severely criticised, South African Constitution is viewed as pro-Human Rights.
Mr Andisani Mathelemusa who is the Administrative Officer in the Student Affairs Department highlighted that the University saw it fit to remember these human rights fighters on this day because on Monday, 21 March most students and staff members won’t be around to attend this event. Organising this event earlier was to accommodate those who were held up on the Human Rights Day.
Attendees were welcomed by the Director Legal Services, Adv Eric Nemukula who indicated that they were meeting earlier than the actual date to commemorate the 21st of March dating back to 1960. He also gave a historical background of this day where he told attendees to always strive to protect their rights and to enjoy their rights responsibly.
When introducing Mr Victor Simango from Simango and Simango Attorneys, the Minister of Legal Policies and Constitutional Affairs, Mr Ndivhuwo Sirembe (Top Picture) spoke about the role of students in protecting their rights and other people’s rights. Mr Charles Simango (Bottom) spoke about approaches to advance the protection these human rights. Mr Simango mentioned that students have the role to protect, guarantee and spread or educate people about these human rights. He concluded his talk by advising students to make sure that they know how to achieve this task and it must be achieved in a responsible manner in such a way that it does not negatively affect their future,” said Mr Sirembe.
When representing the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Management, Commerce and Law, Prof Ademola Oluborode Jegede told attendees to remain vigilant and report abuse and cruelty.
Department of Marketing, Branding & Communication University of Venda
Tel: (015) 962 8525 /8710
Date: 24 March 2022