2017 SA Human Rights Day: What Exactly Are We Celebrating?


It’s yet another Human rights day celebration, a year to remember the sacrifices made for the freedom and peaceful existence of all South African citizens.

A number of SA citizens who are perturbed by all the things that had and are still going wrong in the country have turned to ask if the country really needed to celebrate this day.

In fact, residents in the village where former ANC president Oliver Tambo was born say they have little to celebrate because every day for them has been a struggle.

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For them, and perhaps many other SA citizens, marking the Human rights day has been undermined because citizens still struggle to gain their rights to water, healthcare, food, proper housing, quality education for their children and human dignity as enshrined in chapter 2 of the Constitution.

“We don’t have a clinic in our village. Last year, my grandchild was burnt by boiling water and we had to travel more than 5km to the nearest clinic. If we had one in our village here in Esikhumbeni, we would not be travelling that long for such a minor thing,” said a resident of Nkantolo and surrounding villages.

Added to the above-named challenges, more than 71% of South Africans have no access to electricity and 13.5% have no access to toilets. Only one in 10 residents have a job, and only 11.4% of residents completed their matric or a higher qualification.

All these, joined by the increased corruption in the country, has watered down people’s desire to participate in the national Human rights day celebration.

Nevertheless, the Human rights day puts to our minds the very fact that 69 people sacrificed their lives fifty-seven years ago, for the sake of a better future for SA citizens.

The above number of SA citizens were on Monday, 21 March 1960 gunned down for demanding a more equitable and free South Africa for all.

In what we now remember as the SHARPEVILLE MASSACRE, the police opened fire on the crowd who gathered at the Sharpeville station to protest pass laws, stipulations that required Africans to carry passbooks (Dompas) and produce them to law enforcement officials on request; 69 unarmed people were killed and another 180 were injured.

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Though little is know about what really sparked this tragic event, we are free to celebrate the day because the event gave birth to a number of constitutional rights we enjoy today.

Today, the South African constitution protects individual rights, like the right to move freely without a passbook, with its inclusion of the Bill of Rights (only a supermajority of Parliament can influence any changes to the bill), and citizens are entitled to basic human dignity and more in the country’s current democracy.

The South African Human Rights Commission’s Gail Smith has also come to remind citizens to remain aware of their rights and exercise it appropriately.

“In an ideal world we wouldn’t be needed as a human rights commission but we are heartened that more South Africans are aware of their rights.”

 2017 SA Human Right Day celebration: Events of the Day

As usual, the President, Jacob Zuma is expected to lead the national commemoration of Human Rights Day.

The main event will be in King William’s Town where the highlight of this year’s celebrations will include honoring Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko, 40 years after he was murdered.

Zuma will join Biko’s widow Nontsikelelo Biko and family at their hometown in Ginsberg, King William’s Town, to unveil Biko’s grave site and memorial, the Presidency said in a statement.

“This will be done in celebration of his contribution to the struggle for liberation and human rights for all in the country. The president will then proceed to the main commemoration event in King William’s Town.”
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Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas will deliver a speech in Uitenhage, Nelson Mandela Bay and the DA leader, Mmusi Maimane will commemorate the Day in Sharpeville, Gauteng. He and Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba will lay wreaths at the site of the massacre. Some survivors of the shooting and relatives of the victims of the Life Esidimeni tragedy are expected to be in attendance too.

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Gauteng Premier David Makhura will be at the event in Sharpeville. The day will include wreath-laying ceremonies at the Phelindaba Cemetery, where the victims of the massacre are buried, and at the monument next to the police station where they were shot.

Zuma will among other things, officially hand over the memorial grave site of Steve Biko to his family.

The anti-apartheid activist died on 12 September 1977 after being badly beaten by Eastern Cape police.