South Africa commemorates Human Rights Day annually on the 21 March to reinforce the country’s commitment to the Bill of Rights as enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

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In 1948, the United Nations defined 30 articles of human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It established universal human rights on the basis of humanity, freedom, justice, and peace. South Africa has included indivisible human rights in its own Bill of Rights, Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa stand has a representation to the protection and the fundamental importance of these rights to the country.

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The Bill of Rights preserved in the Constitution of South Africa is the cornerstone of constitutional and representative democracy.

The Constitution is the guideline and supreme law that provides guidance on the responsibility of government and its citizens alike, this means that no laws may be passed that goes against it. The Bill of Rights also 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.

Human Rights are essential to South Africans because on this day in March South Africans are reminded about the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for the attainment of democracy in South Africa. On 21 March 1960, in the South African township of Sharpeville in Transvaal today part of Gauteng, 69 people were brutally massacred and 180 were wounded when police fired on a peaceful crowd that had gathered in protest against the Pass laws. The Pass laws in South Africa were a form of internal passport system designed to segregate the population and restrict the movements of the Black population.

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The Pass laws were also known as the ‘natives' law, which severely limited the movements black African citizens as it required them to carry passbooks when outside their homelands which were designated areas deemed suitable for black people by the Apartheid government.

However, since 1969 this day and month has marked an affirmation by ordinary people rising in unison to proclaim their rights. It has become an iconic date in South African history that today South Africans commemorate Human Rights Day as a reminder of the rights and the cost paid for all individuals to be treated equally within a society. On Human Rights Day, South Africans are asked to reflect on precious nature of these rights, to protect their rights and the rights of all people from violation, irrespective of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation and that human rights apply to everyone, equally.

We must remain vigilant and report abuse and cruelty, such as human trafficking, child labour, forced labour and violence against women, children, and the aged and other vulnerable groupings of people. When South Africa held its first democratic elections and President Nelson Mandela was elected as its first democratic President, the 21st of March was officially declared Human Rights Day in honour of those who had sacrificed for that day.

South Africa has a remarkable history of human rights and as a democracy it has emerged as one of the champions of the human rights preservations. It is only through the preservation of human rights that South Africa can achieve vision of contributing towards a better Africa in a safer world. Our foreign policy and engagements with the international community is also based on the fundamental discharge of human rights for all.


Published at The Diplomatic Observer on 21 March 2021

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