Human Rights Day is celebrated in South Africa on 21 March. This public holiday was declared 27 years ago by the new democratic government, to commemorate the fight for and attainment of democracy in South Africa.
In 1960, on 21 March, communities from Sharpeville and Langa townships, among others around South Africa, embarked on a protest march to protest against pass laws. The protest saw 69 innocent people shot and killed in Sharpeville by the apartheid police, with other compatriots killed in other parts of the country on this day too. This day became known for the Sharpeville Massacre, exposing the intention of the apartheid government – to deny South Africans their human rights, based on race.
Each year, Human Rights Month, which takes place throughout March in South Africa, has a theme. This year, Human Rights Month has been commemorated under the theme “The year of unity, socio-economic renewal and nation-building”.
Tara Turkington, CEO of Flow Communications, reflects on this important day in our calendar: “It’s important to remember on Human Rights Day (and every day) the freedoms we can celebrate in democratic South Africa, such as the freedom of speech, the freedom of association and the freedom to elect our government.
“These are fragile freedoms – there are countries all over Africa and the world where people don’t have these freedoms, and it wasn’t long ago that we couldn’t enjoy them in South Africa, either. We need to continue to use and fight for our freedoms, for there are powerful forces that would steal them from us if they could.”
This weekend, there are a few things you can do to commemorate Human Rights Day. In Joburg, Constitution Hill is a “place of perspective”, telling the story of South Africa’s struggle for democracy. It is an especially relevant place to visit this time of the year. They are open for tours, and Covid-19 precautions are stringent.
Constitution Hill is also a Human Rights Festival, from 21 to 31 March. They are hosting an intergenerational panel discussion, taking place on 22 March from 12pm. The topic is “Taking a stand against racism”. Find out more about the festival and this panel discussion here.
The South African National Blood Service is also calling for blood donations this weekend, and on Monday, the public holiday. Currently, blood stocks are critically low. Find your nearest blood donation centre or temporary blood donation set-up here.