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​The government is working to overcome the legacies of apartheid through transforming the judiciary and building infrastructure to bring services to all.
THE massacre of 69 people who were shot by the police for protesting against apartheid’s pass laws in Sharpeville was revisited at a Human Rights Day ceremony held at Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, in Kliptown, Soweto on Wednesday, 21 March

President Jacob Zuma takes a tour of Freedom Square in KliptownPresident Jacob Zuma inspects the ten pillars (Photo: GCIS website)The area was teeming with activity as hundreds of Soweto residents poured into the square to observe the day with the rest of the country. It was attended by President Jacob Zuma who was accompanied by his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, Deputy Basic Education Minister Enver Surty, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.

Zuma and his entourage inspected the square’s 10 pillars – each a monument to the 10 clauses of the Freedom Charter, which was ratified here – as well as the monument to the charter, before the ceremony began.

Marked on 21 March, Human Rights Day is in observance of the killings in Sharpeville and other parts of the country in 1960. On that fateful day, police shot and killed 69 people in the Vaal Triangle town, who were unarmed and peacefully demonstrating against the pass law. The law required all black males over the age of 16 to carry their passbooks everywhere they went, all the time.

More than 300 people were also wounded. The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), which was led by Robert Sobukwe, had organised the countrywide anti-pass campaign. This year’s theme was “Working together to promote unity in diversity and human dignity for all”.

Informal settlement
President Jacob ZumaPresident Jacob Zuma delivers his Human Rights Day speech (Photo: GCIS website)Speaking at the ceremony, the deputy chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission, Pregs Govender said many of apartheid’s legacies still prevailed in the country. “Most of those who live in informal settlements are young and females. The overwhelming majority are unemployed. Most are afraid of venturing out of their homes at night, yet have little choice when nature calls.”

She noted that the government needed a plan to improve co-ordination across departments and spheres to address the lack of capacity, budgets and support of municipalities in historically poor areas to deliver basic human rights in consultation with communities.

Jacob Dikobo, the president of the Azanian People’s Organisation, said Human Rights Day was an opportunity for South Africans to reflect on their painful past. “Our Human Rights Day was inspired by the Sharpeville and KwaLanga massacres. The connection between this day and the massacre of innocent, peaceful and unarmed people will never and must never be lost.”

The march against the carrying of dompasses, as the pass books were known, was part of the broader struggle for liberation, freedom and justice, said Dikobo, who also spoke of his concern about the violence and damage to public and private property that accompanied some protests.

Economic freedom was the surest means for the recovery of our human dignity and justice, said Mathole Motshekga, the ANC Chief Whip of parliament. “The full realisation of these principles requires the transformation of our entire legal system, including the judiciary to ensure that justice is accessible to all South Africans.”

Premier Nomvula Mokonyane and executive mayor Parks Tau (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)Premier Nomvula Mokonyane and executive mayor Parks Tau observe Human Rights Day (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)The government would speed up the transformation of the legal system, including the judiciary, to ensure that courts were used to enhance access to justice by all.

President Zuma
In his address, Zuma urged people to learn more about the supreme law of the land and appreciate its liberating features. “Let us celebrate the right to life, equality before the law, human dignity, freedom and security of the person, freedom from slavery and servitude or forced labour.”

The president said the march against the pass laws in Sharpeville and Langa, in Cape Town, in 1960 were used to assert people’s right to work and live in urban areas. “They were reflecting the poverty and underdevelopment in rural areas and the then Bantustans.”

He explained that his government’s infrastructure plan intended to tackle the legacy of decades of underdevelopment and to respond to the basic need of all people. “Infrastructure for development is also about connecting rural communities to economic opportunities through building dams and irrigation systems. It will connect farms and villages to the energy grid and build schools and clinics in rural areas.”

The global economic recession of 2009 had affected the country, with one million people losing their jobs, he added. “However, there are encouraging signs of job creation, with the economy adding 365 000 new jobs in 2011.”

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