South Africans believe that Human Rights Day should be celebrated, even though many people still don’t have basic rights.
In a poll run by City Press on Twitter yesterday, 76% of respondents believed that the day should be celebrated.
12% voted “yes, we’ve come far”, 42% believed it should be celebrated, “but we need progress”, 22% said it should be celebrated because they needed a day off, and 24% said it shouldn’t be celebrated till things were fixed.
Today marks the 57th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre, which happened on March 21 1960.
Mass protest action gripped the country as people joined forces in protest against the pass laws being enforced by the apartheid government. In Sharpeville, 69 people were gunned down, leaving an expansive trail of blood scattered along the roads of the township as the dust settled.
The Sharpeville massacre occurred on 21 March 1960, at the police station in the South African township of Sharpeville. After a day of demonstrations against the pass laws, a crowd of between 5000 and 7000 protesters went to the police station. The police opened fire on the crowd, killing 69 people. Picture: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images
Today, as the country is torn between its loyalty towards the ruling ANC-led party and the growing strength of opposition parties, both the ANC and the Democratic Alliance will be making separate addresses 800km away from each other.
President Jacob Zuma is expected to appear in King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape, where he will be addressing the local communities under the theme, The Year of OR Tambo: Unity in Action in Advancing Human Rights.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane will focus his attention at the site of the massacre. Survivors of Sharpeville as well as families of those who died in the Esidimeni Life Healthcare tragedy, will be present. Maimane will be laying a wreath at the site of the Sharpeville Massacre, after which he will conduct a memorial service commemorating those who lost their lives 57 years ago.
Mabine Seabe, spokesperson for DA leader Mmusi Maimane told City Press that the families of the Life Esidimeni victims will be present at today’s memorial service as the DA stands in solidarity with all the victims who have their human rights violated under the ANC.
“No one has been held accountable for what has happened to the victims of the Life Esidimeni tragedy, even matters like Marikana. We have been fighting the Esidimeni saga since 2015 and the provincial government did nothing to listen to us,” Seabe said.
He added that the circumstances surrounding Esidimeni was a matter “which we thought we left behind during the dark days of apartheid”.
“We are siding with the people of South Africa and those who have had their human rights violated,” he said.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the United Nations have spoken out against recent human rights violations that will go down in the history books of the country, much like the Sharpeville massacre.
In December last year when it came to light that 37 psychiatric patients who had been transferred to unlicensed non-governmental organisations had died, four human rights experts from the United Nations issued a stern warning to South African authorities, calling for a full investigation into the matter.
“The relocation was the result of a decision by the Gauteng department of health to terminate its contract with the Life Healthcare Esidimeni hospitals in the context of deinstitutionalisation, but it was implemented without appropriate support and consultation with all the persons concerned,” they said.
Adding to international concern surrounding the governments lack of accountability into matters such as Esidimeni, a report conducted by Human Rights Watch for 2017 highlighted the following: “In South Africa, public confidence in the government’s willingness to tackle human rights violations, corruption, and respect for the rule of law has eroded.”
The report says that South Africa “failed” to hold accountable those responsible for issues such as “xenophobic attacks on the businesses and homes of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants between March and May, 2015.”
Times SA failed when it came to human rights
Amnesty international highlighted the following human rights violations for the 2016-2017 period:
» Police used excessive force against protesters;
» Torture, including rape, and other ill-treatment of people in police custody continued to be reported;
» Xenophobia and violence against refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants resulted in deaths, injuries and displacement;
» Women and girls, particularly those in marginalised communities, continued to face gender inequality and discrimination;
» Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people were subjected to discrimination and hate crimes, including killings; and
» Human rights defenders were attacked.