The 21st March 1960 marked a historic day in South Africa. Sixty-nine people died and 180 were wounded when police opened fire on a peaceful crowd that had gathered in Sharpeville to protest the pass laws. Human Rights Day is commemorated as a reminder of our indelible human rights and the enormous sacrifices of achieving human rights in South Africa.

Yet, on the 63rd anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre, human rights for many South Africans remain out of reach. Recent weeks have seen strike action due to the high cost of living that has prevented sick people from accessing public healthcare services with dire consequences. On 9th March 2023, a 4-year-old child’s body was found in a pit latrine in an Eastern Cape School. That same day, in Bergville, KwaZulu-Natal, a 26-year-old woman was bludgeoned to death with a hammer, allegedly by her husband. Although the right to water is enshrined in our constitution, many South Africans do not have access to a reliable water source. Almost daily, South Africans are dealing with loadshedding and unstable sources of electricity. Corruption, unemployment, poverty and crime continue to undermine social and economic rights. The violation of human rights, particularly of vulnerable and marginalized people, remains rampant in our society.

Commemorative holidays are all too often reduced to an opportunity to have a party and take a selfie… As we pause to reflect on Human Rights Day, we need to be mindful of the ever-widening gap in the realization of social justice, human rights and equality in our society. If we pause and do not act, that trajectory will grow exponentially, the dream of human rights, mere rhetoric. We are at a historic crossroad; we need to pursue a bold transformative agenda to fully realise human rights and sustainable development in our country.

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