SOUTH AFRICA CELEBRATES HUMAN RIGHTS DAY on MARCH 21 AND THE LIFE OF GLOBAL ICON NELSON MANDELA
This year 2018, South Africa and indeed the world celebrate the Centenary of the struggle icon, Nelson Mandela under the theme ‘Be the Legacy’.
The United Nations officially declared July 18 as an annual international day in honour of Nelson Mandela in November 2009 with the first UN Mandela Day held on 18 July 2010 and each year on July 18 since then. South Africa also has its longstanding July 18 celebration in which people are urged to give 67 minutes of their time to a good cause.
In this centenary year South Africa will pay tribute to one of Africa’s greatest sons and remember Nelson Mandela as the struggle stalwart, freedom fighter and first democratic president of South Africa. In celebrating the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s life South Africa will remember his unwavering commitment to justice, equality and non-racialism.
More than just a President, Nelson Mandela was also a consummate diplomat, leading by example not only to South Africans, but to the world. Furthermore Nelson Mandela was someone who united people across all spheres of life, regardless of whether it is politics, economics, culture, sport or music. Above all, Nelson Mandela reminds us of our humanity, that despite anything that can be done to us, we should always retain hope and strive to be better persons as an example to others.
Through the example set by Nelson Mandela, South Africa took its place on the world stage not only politically but economically, culturally and socially. Today South Africa is a member of not only the United Nations family but also of the global economic institutions. These include the World Bank, the IMF, the G20 and BRICS amongst others. South Africa also makes its contributions in other areas, including those which affect people and animals across the world viz human rights, climate change, trade negotiations, international crime and the protection of animals through the membership of CITES, among many others.
While celebrating the life of this icon, we cannot forget the contribution he made and the devotion he showed to the issue of human rights and in particular those of women and children. Nelson Mandela will be the first to say that he did not fight the struggle for liberation and human rights in South Africa alone; that there were many others who made their contribution, many who paid with their lives for South Africa’s liberation. In 2018 South Africa also remembers stalwarts of the liberation struggle such as Albertina Sisulu and Robert Sobukwe, who were among the leaders of the campaign against the pass laws.
Nelson Mandela famously said
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.
Nelson Mandela presided over South Africa’s transition from minority rule and apartheid, winning international respect for his advocacy of national and international reconciliation. Nelson Mandela believed that true freedom could only come from forgiveness and from justice, redemption and reconciliation.
Human Rights Day in South Africa is historically 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 in protest against the Pass laws. This day marked an affirmation by ordinary people, rising in unison to proclaim their rights. It became an iconic date in South Africa’s history that is commemorated as Human Rights Day as a reminder of the cost paid for its people’s human rights.
When Nelson Mandela became President in 1994, March 21 was included in South Africa’s list of national holidays as Human Rights Day and enshrined under the Constitution of South Africa. The Constitution enshrines the rights of all people and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. In terms of the Bill of Rights all persons have a right to citizenship and security, freedom of assembly and association, belief and opinion and expression. People have the right to demonstrate, picket and petition and everyone has the right to be free of forced labour, servitude and slavery.
The Bill of Rights preserved in South Africa’s Constitution is the cornerstone of its constitutional and representative democracy and comprehensively addresses South Africa’s history of oppression, colonialism, slavery, racism and sexism and other forms of human violations. The Bill of Rights embeds the rights of all people in the country in an enduring affirmation of the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
South Africa is a signatory to a number of conventions which seek to protect the human rights of everyone globally and locally, especially those who are most vulnerable including women and children. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a predecessor to South Africa’s Bill of Rights. South Africa also signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). March 21 has now also been declared International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by the UN.
The South African Embassy wish to join millions of South Africans in commemorating this day in the history of the struggle for liberation and calls upon citizens of the world to play part in restoring justice and human rights to all for a better world.