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Why March 21 is Human Rights Day …

This public holiday commemorates the establishment of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and Sharpeville Massacre.

Today, March 21, is a public holiday known in South Africa as Human Rights Day.

The South African government said the purpose of Human Rights Day is “… to remind South Africans about the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for the attainment of democracy in South Africa. The commemoration provides the country with an opportunity to reflect on progress made in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

On March 21, 1960, the communities of two townships, Sharpeville and Langa, like many others across the country, embarked on a protest march against the then pass laws.

According to the government, a total of 69 demonstrators were gunned down by the then apartheid police. Many other people were said to have been killed in other parts of the country. The tragedy soon came to be known as the Sharpeville Massacre and was said to have exposed the apartheid government’s violation of human rights to the world. As a result, the democratic (post-1994) government declared March 21 to be ‘Human Rights Day’ to commemorate and honour those who fought for liberation and the rights many enjoy today.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) was launched on March 21, 1996, 36 years after the fateful events of March 21, 1960. The Commission’s aim is to promote respect for human rights, promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights, and to monitor and assess the observance of human rights in SA.

The government said the Constitution is the ultimate protector of every citizen’s human rights, which were previously denied to the majority of people under apartheid.

Click here to see your rights as enshrined in the Constitution.


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