“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” – Nelson Mandela
Human Rights Day is celebrated on 21 March every year in South Africa to acknowledge the significance of our past and the lessons that were learnt to make a change. This day is celebrated to mark the remembrance of the Sharpesville massacre which coincided with the 21 March 1960. This sacredness marks the occurrence of the protests against the Apartheid regime, where 69 people were killed, of which 29 were children. However, this day also celebrates the advancements made over the years to promote human rights and persistent avocation and continual education.
The important question everyone needs an answer to is, what is a human right? A human right is a right (entitlement) which is believed to belong to every person; in simple terms, each individual is entitled to something, whether it be education, health care or shelter. A right forms the part of the foundation of our necessities in life, which benefit us in the long run. Another question which needs an answer to is whether it is a human rite or a human right. Word play has a significant role on how people take something into context, and this can either be seen in a positive or negative light. A rite is commonly used as a ‘rite of passage’ which refers to a ritual an individual goes through in the next stage of life. Does this coincide with what human right means?
The Apartheid regime was an even that consisted of a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 -1994. Apartheid Laws were put in place from 1950 onwards for various things which included The Population Registration Act in 1950, The Group Areas Act in 1950, Bantu Education Act in 1953 and The Separate Amenities Act in 1953; which are just a few of the many laws that were implemented and affected people’s rights.
In 1960, in the township of Sharpesville, the police opened fire on a group of unarmed people associated with the Pan-African Congress, which was an offshoot of the ANC. This group arrived at the police station carrying no passes which allowed them to be there, opening the opportunity of arrest as an act of resistance. At least 69 people were killed and more than 180 were wounded. The township convinced many anti-apartheid leaders that they could not achieve their goals by peaceful means, causing the PAC and ANC to establish military wings, which was never seen a serious threat. This event in the township of Sharpesville marks Human Rights Day in South Africa.
These laws caused extreme segregation at the time, that people even put signs up to exclude those of another race. This was a violation of the rights of people from other races, as it made them feel less than, which is a universal problem in society today.
After nearly 50 years, the protests and government elimination that followed, combined with a national economic recession, drew great international attention to South Africa and shattered all illusions that Apartheid had brought peace and prosperity to the nation. The United Nations General Assembly had denounced Apartheid in 1973.
Eventually a new constitution, which enfranchised all racial groups, took charge in 1994 when elections took place to lead an alliance with an inclusive racial majority, marking the official end of the apartheid system.
However, looking at South Africa as a country that faced Apartheid, there are many places in the world today that are suffering because of how society defines us. Taking the recent New Zealand shooting to thought, shows discrimination of race, stereotypes and fascism. Due to self proclamation into supremacy, individuals feel as if they are doing the world a favour by committing mass murder due to how certain groups are perceived to the world. This violates the rights of individuals as they are put in danger for something they did not do, which gives the person doing the act some sort of satisfaction which does not link to how human rights are acknowledged world wide.
Human Rights Day is not only celebrated in South Africa. It is celebrated internationally as well, this year’s date being 10 December 2019. This day honours the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. This declaration that was drafted 71 years ago and is available in over 500 languages, setting out the universal values for people of all nations.
There are many ways in which people see human rights; from an Islamic perspective, a foundation has been laid for the fundamental rights of humanity which is observed and respected universally. An ayah in the Quran, surah 5 – Al-Maidah verse 8 states:
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.”
When referring to human rights in Islam, the rights humans are granted are that which is granted by God and not a legislation, therefore no human is allowed to amend the rights granted by God. This shows how justly people need to act in order to acknowledge that we all have the same rights, despite our culture, religion and what society has defined us as.
“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” – Nelson Mandela.
By referring to this quote used in the beginning, emphasises the importance of people, their rights and humanity that should not go unnoticed. This powerful quote, by the late Nelson Mandela, should allow us to reflect on what happened in our country 25 years ago when we were given the opportunity to vote for the first time, and how each person was involved to make a difference in the post-Apartheid Era, but it should also give us the opportunity to notice what goes on in the world and how we as individuals can make small changes to make huge differences, which will not only benefit ourselves, but benefit humanity for the effort we’ve made.