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From Sharpeville Massacre to Human Rights Day?

By Mzukona Mantshontsho
Human rights are interlinked and interdependent rights intrinsic to all human beings without any discrimination of nationality, ethnic origin, sex, religion, language, cast and creed or any other status, as stated by the United Nations (UN).
The damage and loss of valuable human lives in the Second World War was a serious wake-up call in a way, for the entire human race. In 1945, the founding member countries of the newly established UN, joined hands to draft many solid laws to promote and protect the primary human rights of its citizens. South Africa is a member of the UN.
The beginning of March 2022 in the calendar was the beginning of Human Rights Month in South Africa, leaving us with about 9 months to take a good look at and critically assess ourselves on promoting and protecting human rights.
Human Rights Activist Advocate Sipho Mantula once made a couple of suggestions for us as a country: “As a society, we do agree that we are in an appalling State and we should critically look at the service delivery protests in our country and begin to engage in dialogue as to why they are happening. We also need to look at the Xenophobic attacks that gripped our country in May 2008, the recent lootings and intimidation of foreign shop-owners in Soweto Rossettenville, Pretoria and a couple of other townships, and how those can be reduced and avoided,” he said.
“We agree that International Laws have been signed on basic human rights to humanity (food, shelter, education, life, human dignity, development, peace and freedom of movement). The question is, do we have the political will to uphold and protect these human rights?”
“The fact that we have over 15 million South Africans receiving grants, suggests that even at our schools, children should be taught about their human rights and civil servants need to understand what human rights are, said Advocate Mantula.
The Sharpeville Massacre is remembered annually on 21 March in South Africa as Human Rights Day. In order to pay tribute to the 69 men, women and children who lost their lives on that day, it is essential that we have an understanding of the context in which the event occurred. The year 1960 was a fateful year in the history of South Africa, and one that was to be inherently steeped in racial conflict.
Although the protest was anticipated, no one could have predicted the consequences and the repercussions this would have for South African and World politics. The demonstrations in Sharpeville were mainly concerned with voicing protests against pass laws. These pass books included a photograph, details of a person’s place of birth, employment records, tax payments and any criminal record. These laws effectively limited freedom of movement, as pass books had to contain stamps providing official proof that the particular person had permission to be in whichever urban area they were visiting.
These laws were initially placed on men, but were soon extended to women. That extension intensified the experience of humiliation and discrimination, especially as women feared they would be man-handled by police and other officials.
Despite the non-violent nature of the campaign, protesters were met with violent opposition from armed policemen. Reports suggest that the police panicked at the sight of thousands of protesters in Sharpeville and shot into the crowd. In the outburst, 69 unarmed men, women and children were brutally murdered, and 180 people were injured by the armed forces.
Eyewitness accounts attest to the unnecessary violence and the inhumane manner in which the crowd was sprayed with gunfire without any warnings to disperse. The presence of armoured vehicles also points to unnecessary provocation, especially when the crowd was unarmed.

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