Commemoration of the Sharpeville Massacre

Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) joins the people of South Africa, the Government and National Institutions and the rest of the world in commemorating the Sharpeville Massacre of
69 Black people and over 150 injured in a peaceful assembly protesting against the discriminatory pass laws enforced to Black people by the apartheid regime.

This day remains relevant in many ways to shape our human rights trajectory as a nation. It has contributed immensely to the fundamental rights entrenched in the Constitution for citizens’ conduct in assemblies, expressing themselves and part-taking in associations of their own choice. However, implementation of these rights is reminiscent of the events of the Sharpeville Massacre, due to gross human rights violations by several high-ranking government officials and uncaring, ruthless law enforcement.

Freedoms of assembly, expression and association were denied to the people both in constitutional prescripts and practice during the apartheid era. This situation was bound to change after a peaceful democratic state was ushered into the new dispensation of South Africa, in 1994.

In the Twenty-Eight Years (28) of human rights and democratic environment, the majority of the disadvantaged communities, who are mainly black are still at this day and age, living in appalling conditions that are a perpetual physical and environmental menace to community health and wellness. They are expected to endure and be complicit in their own demise, and in the name of loyalty to the cause of freedom delivered by the ruling party, suffer in silence and repeatedly participate in denigrating democracy by ignoring the societal needs when it comes to them practicing their voting rights. Appeasing the oligarchic political parties that continue to prey on the weak and poor through state-based corruption and embezzlement of service delivery reserves that leave the electorate barely managing dignity and decency. As the nation goes further on in years, the deeper the democracy gets eroded, the deeper to the bone that inequality and poverty gets to grind into the integrity of the people who lived through and fought for the end to the heinous inhumane system of apartheid government. It has just changed masters the enslavement is just the same, with no progress made to develop the communities with adequate housing, infrastructure for electricity, communication, adequate and quality water and sanitation. The tale of rural schools and the accidents brought about by the poorly constructed pit latrines continues to shamefully label the marginalised masses as stepchildren of this democracy so shamelessly being weaponized against the poor. Rural settlements, townships and informal settlement dwellers continue to live in abject poverty and experience high levels of unemployment. Citizens continue to face the hostile law enforcement for expressing their views and exposing trends of corruption with impunity, inhumane and degrading environments and poor service delivery. Many lives have been lost in demonstrations, and the reality of abductions, extra judicial killings is increasing instilling fear, shrink the democratic space for free and independent operation of civil society, human rights defenders to monitor and hold the government accountable for infringement of constitutional and legislative frameworks.

This environment of bad governance, intolerance to human rights and reprisals has found place in a human rights and democratic space. Regulations of Gatherings Act 205, adopted in 1993 is enforced besides its conflict with the human rights safeguarded in the constitution. The Act requires a notice for conducting protests. The Constitutional Court has unanimous ruled that protesters do not have to notify local authorities before gatherings or demonstrations. This Constitutional Court judgment has laid a framework for reform of the RGA to align with constitutional imperatives allowing the exercise of this right. But the law enforcement has not altered the aggressive behavior to citizen’s participation in assemblies. This is not the dark era where marches, protests, demonstrations and pickets were prohibited and enforced by a discriminatory and injustice policy. There is no reason for subjecting the citizens to the past horror and traumatic events in a democracy.

This human rights month coincides with International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, observed on 21 March. This stems from the outcome of the World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances. South Africa hosted the third World Conference on Racism in 2001 and concluded with the Durban Declaration on Programmee of Action. The Declaration calls for State Parties to enact laws or strengthen national policies and administrative practices to counter racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner is at the forefront of campaigns for elimination of racism and racial discrimination in the world. The High Commissioner sponsored a myriad of activities over the period, July – December 2021 under the campaign theme “A world beyond racism focusing on the People of African Descent, given the International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024”.

The resurfacing of xenophobia in South Africa in 2008 among disadvantaged communities affecting the low skilled migrants, asylum seekers, refugees accused for “monopolizing the employment space” for promoting and sponsoring criminality, the arbitrary conducts introducing quotas for prioritising South Africans with a view of addressing illegal immigrants is regressive. South Africa had at some point made ground-breaking progress at the international political arena promoting rights of People of African Descent. This commemoration of the Sharpeville Massacre provides the opportunity to defend the rights enshrined in the constitution, equally harmonises South Africa obligations at international and regional levels. This International Decade for People of African Descent was designed for the realisation of the economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of the people of African descent and their full participation in the society.

OHCHR champions promotion of the International Decade under the theme Recognition, Justice and Development encouraging States to end prejudices, hatred, racial discrimination against people of African descent.

We are calling on the Government to do the following;
1.Initiate open dialogue and processes for amendment of the Regulations of the Gathering Act to give effect to rights guaranteed in the Constitution as ruled out by the Constitutional Court, reaffirming the strong protection overriding impeding legislation against protests without requirement of a notice, and the police duty to facilitate marches, protests, demonstrations, pickets
2.Encourage all in South Africa to unite and counter racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, through the adopted five-year National Action Plan on Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance, 2019- 2024.
3.Increase collaboration with civil society with concrete actions to tackle the increasing xenophobic attacks, fear, hatred, violence in the country by vigilante groups, movements, and opposition parties that claim their act is for the best interest of South Africans.
4.Protect civil society including CBOs, human rights defenders, economic and environmental activists, peace builders, gender based activists environment operate in enabling environments free of reprisals, abductions, extra judicial killings.
5.Create public platform for diverse dialogues and engagements strengthening democracy, human rights, equality, dignity, and prevalence of rule of law.

Furthermore, HURISA encourages;
1.Unity among the diverse communities in the country and integration of migrants in the society.
2.We encourage human rights training for enhancement of law enforcement capacities to execute their duties with the highest standards and required professionalism. Police should carry their duties unobstructed, not undermined by any group (s) from civil society and arrest the suspects of human rights violations, including, those assuming duties to remove migrants from trading in local markets and businesses.
3.We call the Department of Economic Development, to work with the SAPS, local municipalities, civil society, affected communities to tackle the deepening lawlessness and apprehend the suspects of human rights violations.

We are calling civil society, peace builders and human rights defenders to;
1.Promote the Sharpeville Massacre – Human Rights Day to build a culture of human rights,
International Day for Elimination of racial Discrimination, International Day of African Descent 2025- 2024 to promote peace, justice, equality and human dignity in communities, across the country and in the SADC region.
2.Monitor & evaluate the progress and impact of implementation of the Sharpeville Massacre, International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination and exchange of lessons, best practice models in 2024 for acceleration in tacking challenges facing People of African Descent.

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