On 21 March 1960 ordinary South Africans took to the dusty streets of the township of Sharpeville, near Vereeniging, in the then Transvaal, and went on to the local police station in protest against inhumane Apartheid pass laws. The protest ended in bloodshed. A substantial number of people died on that fateful day, and others got injured by a brutal police force.
Remembered as the Sharpeville Massacre in the new democratic dispensation, it was a day when the people – in the noble pursuit of proclaiming their rights as equal citizens in their nation, were met with contempt. That scorn was to become entrenched in our memories and got inserted as a segment in the nation’s unequal past. This is the reason today we commemorate this day, as Human Rights Day. For it marked an affirmation by most of the country’s disenfranchised population who rose and spoke against many related tides of discriminatory policies, which were enforced by the then leading government. Moreover, that day was to signal the beginning of intense resistance and prompted worldwide condemnation of South Africa’s Apartheid policies.
62 years later, this day remains of immense historic importance and remembrance in South Africa. This day bears its significance and enshrines the sacrifices made in the past in favour of a conducive future for all and reminds us of what change can come when we let our voices be heard. We asked some of our team at DaVinci to give their reflections on this day. Thandeka Mfeka, Programme Coordinator-Undergraduate Studies, says that in her view, many a “young people who listen to this narration of events simply do not resonate with the pain of that time, but the realities of the conditions those individuals faced are still entrenched in our existence to date”.
Thandeka, ever a questioner, asks, “where is this freedom and the rights to human life, dignity, expression, and association? Such is clearly expressed on paper but difficult to point out in societies that remain unequal and with many people’s lives still stuck in a deprivation trap that leaves them often without dignity. Moreover, why is love between individuals of the same sex still shunned upon where acceptance is tied to conforming?”
On reflection, Thandeka suggests a need to reflect and find alternative ways by which we can learn to be “more tolerant, empathetic and truthful about the fact that more can be done to illuminate the rights of our people, and this should be in parallel with teachings on being responsible patriotic citizens with a hope to restore the axis of equal opportunity and inclusion – allowing differences to shine so we may learn from one another. In addition, to encourage engagement and allow the voiceless to start believing in themselves.”
Joining in this reflection is Anthony Letsoalo-Mphogo, Business Development Manager at The Da Vinci Institute, who says, “looking back at this day and reflecting on the world around us today, I am further reminded of the words of Jason Donohue who said, I see humans everywhere but no humanity. As we once again band together as a nation in the name of Human Rights, it is my hope that each single one of us will be reminded of what it truly means to be human and humane towards one another in honour of those who, despite the risks, stood up for a South Africa they dreamt, wanted, and hoped to see. Though they lost their lives in the process, may the voices of their dream for an equally humane and inclusive South Africa continue to live on through our words and, most importantly, our actions.”
Let this day be a reminder of our individual rights as fellow co-creators and the cost paid for such a treasured right. It also reminds us to remain vigilant. To not be the transgressor or be prone to transgression either. Ours as fellow country men and women is to protect one another in whichever manner possible, and to report abuse and cruelty, such as human trafficking, child labour, forced labour and violence against women, children, and the aged, as well as other vulnerable groupings of people. This is how we may further entrench a culture of honouring our individual human rights founded upon important values such as human dignity, equality, and liberty.
On this 62nd anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre, we should take stock of the road we have travelled thus far, as a rainbow nation, and the large responsibility that lies ahead and comes with this day of honouring the fallen. Annual anniversaries like this one allow us to pause, reflect and learn from our past to better our present.
From the home of remarkability, we would like to seize the moment and wish everyone a remarkable Human Rights Day.