Facts about Human Rights Day in SA

On 21 March each year, South Africa celebrates Human Rights Day to commemorate The Sharpeville Massacre.

Below are five facts around the public holiday.

In 1948 the National Party came to power in South Africa and began to formalise segregation in a succession of laws that gave the government control over the movement of black people in urban areas.

The Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952 narrowed the definition to blacks with permanent residence in towns and cities.

Legally, no black person could leave a rural area for an urban one without a permit from the local authorities, and on arrival in an urban area, the person had to obtain a permit within 72 hours to seek work.

The Reference Book, or Pass, included a photograph, details of place of origin, employment record, tax payments, and encounters with the police.


Here are five facts about the aftermath of these Pass Laws:


  1. Human Rights Day is a tribute to Sharpeville Massacre

Human Rights Day in South Africa is linked with 21 March 1960, and the events of Sharpeville. On that day 69 people died and 180 were wounded when police fired on a peaceful crowd that had gathered to protest against the Pass laws.


  1. More than just a protest about Pass Laws

It was more than a protest against the Pass Laws of the apartheid regime. It was an affirmation by common people, rising in unison to proclaim their rights, and it became an iconic date in South Africa’s troubled history.


  1. PAC spearheaded the Anti-Pass Laws Campaign

The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) proposed an anti-Pass campaign to begin on March 21, 1960. Black men were to gather at Sharpeville without their reference books and present themselves for arrest. The order was given to disperse, after which the police opened fire with sharp-point ammunition on the crowd of men, women and children.


  1. African National Congress instituted 21 March as the South Africa Human Rights Day

In 1994 when Nelson Mandela became its leader, March 21 was included in the list of national holidays of democratic South Africa. On Human Rights Day, South Africans are asked to reflect on their rights and how to protect themselves against violations.


  1. Bill of Rights is the cornerstone of democracy in South Africa

It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. The state must respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights in the Bill of Rights. In terms of the Bill of Rights all persons have a right to citizenship and security. Persons and groups are entitled to freedom of assembly; association; belief and opinion; and expression. They have the right to demonstrate, picket and petition; everyone has the right to be free of forced labour, servitude and slavery.

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