Human Rights Day – Where We’ve Been & What We Can Overcome Together


How will you be celebrating Human Rights Day 2020? In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, this national public holiday is likely to take on new meaning. But, if we consider how much we have been able to overcome as a united front, things may not seem as bleak. Plus, there are a number of ways to celebrate the day even from within self isolation. 

Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day – Celebrating Our Rights Under Lockdown

How would you usually celebrate Human Rights Day? Would you spend the day in your pajamas binge watching your favourite series, host a family braai or go out to an event commemorating the history and importance of the day? Whichever way you normally choose to celebrate this national public holiday is likely to change in light of the new restrictions on public gatherings to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. However, this does not mean that we should write off Human Rights Day. In fact, in this current situation of uncertainty, isolation and fear, it may be more important than ever to reflect on where we’ve been and how far we have come as a nation, united under the banner of democracy and equality for all.

Where We’ve Been

On 21 March 1960, a group of men, woman and children gathered at a police station in Sharpeville. Marching in protest of the Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952, which stipulated that no black person could leave a rural area for an urban one without a permit from the local authorities. The group gathered peacefully in Sharpeville without their passes and presented themselves for arrest. Police ordered the crowd to disperse, after which they opened fire. The day subsequently became known as the “Sharpeville massacre”, with a total of 69 fatalities and 180 wounded.

Where We Are Now

South Africa has celebrated Human Rights Day annually since 1994, remembering the ordinary citizens who took a stand against injustice, rising in union to proclaim their basic human rights. In the face of the coronavirus outbreak, it may feel as if our human rights are being infringed upon. With mass isolation, travel bans, curfews and restrictions on weddings and funerals, as well as the growing number of reported cases of the virus, the outlook appears bleak. But, if we consider where we’ve been and how far we have come since 21 March 1960, the picture seems a little bit brighter.

In his address to the nation on Sunday, 15 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa left off on a positive note saying:

This epidemic will pass, but it is up to us to determine how long it will last, how damaging it will be and how long it will take our economy and our country to recover. It is true that we are facing a grave emergency, but if we act together, if we act now, and if we act decisively, I am sure we will overcome it. We have never been defeated by any thing or event, when we are united.

Human Rights Day

Play Your Part

While it is not advisable to attend a mass gathering this Human Rights Day, there are still a number of ways to celebrate with your family and extended communities. We encourage you to participate in one random act of kindness or to reach out to those in need, such as the elderly. This may be as simple as making a phone call to a friend who is struggling to adapt to self isolation. Becoming a united front against COVID-19 means taking on the call for social distancing, improved hygiene and empathy for others. If we all follow these simple guidelines, we should overcome this great challenge.

A Little Inspiration

Still not quite feeling the celebratory mood? Check out our list of articles on ways to keep positive during this time:

Happy Human Rights Day! Stay safe. 

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