March 21st is a public holiday in South Africa, which means a day off for most people. As is human nature, we take the holiday for granted because we become to bogged down with how we’re going to spend the day.
March 21st is human rights day in South Africa and marks a very important event in the country’s history. On this day, in 1960 a large group of people converged on the police square in Sharpeville, Gauteng, to protest the law that black people had to carry passbooks. This oppressive law, which had been in place since former president and apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoed instilled it in 1950, was intended to control and restrict the movement of black people. Though the group collected peacefully, it doubled in numbers in a short space, which caused the armed police officers unease.
The police tried to break up the protestors through the means of teargas and their batons, but the group persevered. The mass of people were unarmed, though a number of people had thrown a couple of rocks at the armed police officers. Seemingly unprovoked, the police opened fire on the group. 69 people were killed that day, including 8 children and 10 women. 180 were injured, mostly being shot in the back as they were trying to flee.
The significance of this event, aside from the gross violation of a number of human rights, is that it sparked mass uproar and the weeks following were filled with endless protest and riots.
When Nelson Mandela came to power, he marked the day as one to commemorated by South Africans, and signed the South African constitution into law at the Sharpeville site.
So, this year, if you’re looking to do something a little more in line with the spirit of the day, here are some events happening across the city.
Cerebral S1E4 – Braamfontein
Cerebral works to create a platform for young expressionists, and gives them environment to exhibit and share their art, ideas, merchandise and music with peers and industry alike. Like every celebration before it, this will be a celebration of some of the hard-fought freedoms that those who gave their lives 58 years ago allowed us all to enjoy.
All Iziko museums are free in honour the day, except for the Castle of Good Hope, Iziko Planetarium & Digital Dome and Groot Constantia. This means you can round the family up for a historical and visual tour of South Africa’s history.