The lives of those who fought in the struggle for a democratic South Africa will be remembered at a Human Rights Day ceremony at Walter Sisulu Square.
THE shooting to death of 69 people by police, who were protesting against apartheid’s pass laws in 1960 in Sharpeville, will be remembered on Wednesday, 21 March with a ceremony at Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Kliptown, in Soweto.
President Jacob Zuma will deliver the keynote addressPresident Jacob Zuma will deliver the keynote addressHuman Rights Day is observed on the anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre every year. The United Nations also declared 21 March International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
President Jacob Zuma will deliver the keynote address at the service. He is expected to focus on the government’s commitment to reinforce, protect and promote the human rights that are enshrined in the Constitution.
This year’s theme is “Working together to promote unity in diversity and human dignity for all”. It calls on all South Africans to rally together and realise these goals. This annual remembrance reminds South Africans of the sacrifices made by so many people in the struggle for a democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.
On 21 March 1960, in a non-violent campaign called by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), thousands of unarmed people gathered outside their local police stations to be arrested for not carrying their passbooks, or dompas. In Sharpeville, in the Vaal Triangle, police opened fire on the crowd. In addition to the 69 people they killed, more than 300 were wounded.
The law required all black males over the age of 16 to carry their passbooks everywhere they went, all the time. It showed which areas they were allowed to travel in, and where they lived. They had to produce it on demand by the police. If they could not, or did not have the right stamp, they were arrested immediately.
The country went up in flames as anger at the massacre spread through townships. Many more people were killed after the Sharpeville Massacre. Many blacks were arrested, including Robert Sobukwe, the leader of the PAC, who had organised the campaign.
He served nine years in prison on Robben Island for inciting the protest in Sharpeville. These deaths outraged the international community, who turned against the National Party government. The South African stock exchange almost collapsed, only to be saved by loans from a consortium of American banks.
Joburg celebrities speak their thoughts about Human Rights day and what the day means to them. Watch video.
The government, under the leadership of Hendrik Verwoerd, declared a state of emergency and banned political meetings. In less than a month, it also banned the PAC, which had organised the action in Sharpeville, and the ANC.
However, the two groups continued to operate underground and in exile. They were prompted to begin an armed struggle against apartheid, which lasted for 30 years. Until then, the ANC had chosen a path of peaceful resistance. However, in the early 1960s, it formed its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, which started a bombing campaign in December 1961.
Increasing resistance to the carrying of passes led to many blacks being arrested under the pass laws in the 1970s. In 1986, Pieter Willem Botha, who was the executive state president at the time, gave in to extreme pressure and recalled the pass and influx control laws.
Shortly afterwards, negotiations started that led to the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisons and the first free democratic elections on 27 April 1994.
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