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Op-eds

We need to play our part in supporting a human rights culture in SA

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev
For the third consecutive year, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) marked Human Rights Day by taking a Jewish community delegation to Sharpeville, scene of one of the most notorious atrocities of the apartheid era.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Mar 22, 2018

On March 21 1960, scores of protesters were killed and more than 200 people were injured during an anti-pass law demonstration. The tragedy did much to alert the world at large to the myriad injustices of the apartheid system.

As such, it gave impetus to the nascent global anti-apartheid movement, which, over time, exerted increasingly effective pressure on the white minority regime to change its iniquitous policies and contributed in no small measure to South Africa’s eventual transition to non-racial democracy.

It was thus appropriate that when instituting new public holidays for a post-apartheid South Africa, March 21 was chosen as the date on which Human Rights Day would be observed. 

An important part of the board’s mission is to lead the Jewish community in being an active part of fostering a human rights culture in our country. This includes identifying with the symbols and institutions, such as public holidays, that encapsulate our shared national heritage and values.

By joining with our fellow South Africans in remembering what took place at Sharpeville during the darkest years of apartheid, we not only pay respect to the victims of the massacre, but also recall the injustices against which they had been protesting – in this case, the draconian pass laws that controlled and restricted the freedom of movement of the black population. 

There is an added dimension to commemorating the tragedy of Sharpeville: those who died, as well as those who were injured, should be remembered not only as victims, but also as martyrs in the cause of fighting for human dignity, racial equality and democracy. South Africa attained its freedom only because ordinary people were prepared to take a stand against injustice, despite the danger that this entailed to themselves and their families. 

The Jewish delegation which travels to Sharpeville comprises SAJBD lay and professional leaders, students and Jewish day school pupils. They meet with survivors of the massacre, visit and lay wreaths at the memorials to those who died, and listen to speakers who share their views on what Human Rights Day means to South Africa.

We strongly encourage the Jewish community to participate in events of this nature, both to show solidarity with those who suffered and to gain a more immediate understanding of what apartheid was all about.

Regardless of background, all citizens have a duty to ensure that their hard-won democratic rights and humanitarian values continue to be at the core of South African society. We must always remember that our forebears in pre-1994 South Africa were not subjected to pass laws, nor any other discriminatory apartheid practices. As whites, they belonged to the privileged racial caste.

This makes it even more imperative that we, their descendants, make every effort to identify, in humility and respect, with national holidays and other symbols of remembrance relating to past suffering and injustices that took place in our country.

•         Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday 12:00-13:00.

 

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