21 March 2012

Arguments erupt as South Africans celebrate Human Rights Day

The 21st of March marks the celebration of Human Rights Day in the South African calendar. This day was founded based on significant events which marked a turning point in the struggle against apartheid in the country.

On this day in 1960, the apartheid police killed 69 people in Sharpeville, a township situated about 50 kilometres south of Johannesburg, Gauteng. These people were protesting against pass laws which restricted the general movement of black people. Many were shot in the back as they fled. In other parts of the country similar events unfolded on the same day though with lesser casualties. Four days later the government banned political organisations fighting for the rights of black people. Many leaders were arrested or exiled.

This event, which is now known as the Sharpeville Massacre, signalled the beginning of an armed resistance in South Africa. Prior to it, many anti-apartheid movements had agreed upon a peaceful non-violent resistance but the government continued to retaliate with savage attacks and brute force.

The Massacre attracted enormous attention across the globe, prompting world-wide condemnation of South Africa's apartheid policies.

Human Rights Day was partly founded on this event with an aim to honour those who died for the liberation of South Africa. It was also established to ensure that the people of South Africa are aware of, celebrate and appreciate their human rights.  

This year's 'official' commemoration was staged in Kliptown, a township of Soweto in Johannesburg. The country's president, Jacob Zuma delivered the keynote address. It was for the first time that this event was commemorated outside Sharpeville. This caused uproar from those who believe it should be held in Sharpeville. Others argued that since its "human rights" day, it can be staged anywhere as it's a day for all South Africans. 

Sharpeville residents reportedly went on a rampage; marching and burning tyres saying the graves of the heroes and heroines are not in Soweto but are in Sharpeville.