It was just a few days ago that I learned that today, Wednesday, was Human Rights Day, a public holiday throughout South Africa celebrated on the 21st of March. It’s a national day to reflect, remember and honor those who fought for a just and right democracy in South Africa. This is just one of South Africa’s public holidays, which also includes Mandela Day, a day that honors the man himself every July 18th.
According to the official website:
South Africa Human Rights Day is of critical importance in the lives of all South African citizens. Since South Africa has a long history of Apartheid, where thousands of African and other people of ethnic origins were tortured by the white ruling class, this day has come to be a symbol of human rights guaranteed to all.
It also celebrates the signing of the country’s Bill of Rights and Constitution while remembering the horrific Sharpeville massacre of 1960, where police officers opened fire killing 69 people during a peaceful demonstration of apatheid and other political policies. This horrific event led to many political prisoners sent and held at the maximum security prison on Robben Island. For a brief primer on the history, check out this piece by the New York Times. The Nelson Mandela Foundation also has a very informative write-up about why it is celebrated.
The aims of the day of remembrance:
- South Africa Human Rights Day seeks to ascertain that the South Africans have developed an understanding of the various human rights they are entitled to and can protect themselves against human rights exploitation.
- South Africa Human Rights Day also marks the beginning of the South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in 1996.
Like any typical public holiday, government offices are closed, people have the day off of work and most retail businesses close early today. Celebratory events are taking place across the country, including a major one with President Jacob Zuma, also a former political prisoner at Robben Island, where he will give the keynote address.
Happy Human Rights Day from South Africa, my friend!