Human Rights Day: a day to celebrate or commemorate?
On 21 March is South Africa observes Human Rights Observance Day. This day 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.
Siphe Mashece, an academic from the North-West University’s (NWU’s) Faculty of Law, says as we observe this day we should ask ourselves whether we are supposed to celebrate, or commemorate this day.
Siphe asks how educated most South Africans are about the Bill of Rights, which is preserved in our Constitution as the cornerstone of our constitutional and representative democracy. Can South Africans proudly say that they had full access to and enjoyed the full benefit of the Bill of Rights during the 26 years of democracy?
“It is undeniable that our country still has deep structural problems. This is evident from various phenomena, including the escalating acts of violence against women and children and wrongful convictions,” says Siphe.
“It is time that we stop relying on messages of hope and rather find solutions through reasonable dialogue and by using all democratic platforms to address the social ills our country continues to endure. It is time for our country to realise the essence of economic freedom as a pillar to heal the injustices of the past.”
Siphe explains that even though we pride ourselves on having the best Constitution the world has ever seen, it is futile to brag about it when it does not produce positive results.
“It is imperative to realise that having political power without economic power is fruitless. Our large population includes many unemployed individuals who still hope for a better life. The structural problems we have in our country are man-made, therefore the solutions should also come from the people.
“On the flipside, it is important to take note of a few positive changes we have seen since the dawn of democracy,” says Siphe.
“Although there are still challenges, government, civil society organisations and institutions in the private sector have made strides in changing the lives of our people.
“Presently our people enjoy freedom of movement as opposed to the government of oppression. The scale of access to education has increased vastly over the years, and we have seen numerous projects that give our people access to basic needs,” he adds.
Siphe says it is undeniable that the government alone does not have the necessary capacity to fulfil the needs of our national population.
“As we observe Human Rights Day in South Africa this year, we do not need just another message of hope. We need to take action within reasonable measures.”