Human Rights Day in SA


Another South African Holiday is coming to a close. March 21st is called Human Rights Day but it is the anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960. One of the ways the government under Apartheid rule maintained power was the use of passbooks which contained identification specific the racial classification.  If someone was in the wrong place at the wrong time, the police would look at the passbook and depending on the race of the person the office could slap additional charges or worse.

Understandably the people of Sharpeville (in Southern Gauteng Province), became fed up with this arrangement today 56 years ago, between 5,000 and 10,000 people marched to the Sharpeville police station to turn themselves in for mass arrest for not carrying their passbook. The police were not prepared to handle this demonstration and ordered the crowd to disperse. The crowd did not comply and the police fired on the crowd. 69 people were killed and 180 were injured in the Sharpeville Massacre.

Like most days of observance South Africans are encouraged to reflect on their lives today and how it was a vastly different reality from just 20 years ago. For human rights day, they are specifically asked to contemplate their rights. Today there are thankfully no passbooks that are mandated to be on the person constantly, because numerous people fought against the law. Many paid for their beliefs with their lives. The Sharpeville massacre was the final straw for many anti-Apartheid activists and the resistance towards the government ramped up. Sharpevillle is never forgotten and Nelson Mandela made it a point to sign the South African constitution on December 10, 1993 which is the day the Deceleration of Human Rights was signed in the United Nations. The date is observed as human rights day in the world.


Today I finished “Cry the Beloved Country” by Alan Paton (highly recommended if you are looking for a thoughtful book recommendation). Paton creatively developed his own characters that shadowed real events in Apartheid South Africa. He was also articulate about the shared internal battles humans face that transcend cross cultures and justice. In the midst of resent events with terrorist attacks and the continued healing process in South Africa, I wanted to share a bit of Paton’s wisdom. Some people may interpret as a disheartening meaning but for me it is inspiring. I was reminded to not let fear get the best of me and engage with people who are different. Also we cannot let prejudice dictate how a country functions, in the end the entire nation will suffer (even those with privilege.)

“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that’s the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much.”
Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country   

All the best,