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Take inspiration from Sharpeville, and fight for rights



As members of Habonim, as the youth, as diaspora Jews, as students, as South Africans, what are we doing to protect human rights, and how can we learn from history?

In memory of the Sharpeville massacre in which 69 protesters were murdered in the honourable and defiant act of fighting for their human rights, we think about our responsibility to uphold these rights.

On 21 March 1960, protesters – many black youth – were denied some of the most precious of human rights – the right to life; freedom of expression and assembly; and the right to dignity and freedom from inhumane treatment, among many others. The great injustice is that on that day, the protesters were fighting against oppressive laws, predominantly pass laws, in a peaceful manner, yet were met with brutal violence.

It’s important that we, the youth, continue to fight for human rights. But what does this mean in our world as a Jewish and Zionist youth movement?

In recent times, in the wake of the 7 October massacre, as Habonim, we’ve shown up in our blue and red chultzot in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and in Israel to protest peacefully for bringing the hostages home and ending the violation of their human rights.

While the two atrocious events – Sharpeville and 7 October – are in no way the same, we may honour both and make the links between our country’s historical struggle for human rights and the role of our youth movement in Israel and our community’s current struggle.

There’s always been a question in the Jewish community – and by extension in Habonim – both during apartheid and now, of how much we can risk our safety with certain political issues. We struggle with the idea that we don’t feel entirely safe to protest holding an Israeli flag boldly in South Africa, but at the same time, we’ll continue to fight in our own way.

Education, our saving grace, is one of these ways. Habonim has three core values: Judaism; Zionism; and equality and service to humanity. During the current crisis of information overload in which every bad thing that happens is available for us to see, what do we choose to fight for? It’s simple. We stick to our core values.

So, in honour of the Sharpeville protesters whom we didn’t know personally but with whose youthful spirit and drive for social justice we can identify, we’ll continue as Habonim to maintain an informal education system that focuses on global and internal issues. We’ll continue to focus on our channichim’s Jewish, Zionist, and South African identity, and educate them about it – like the protesters of the Sharpeville massacre – who, because of their youth and passion fought for their community’s human rights.

We take inspiration from them.

We urge our members and the wider Jewish community to vote in South Africa’s upcoming election, and support each other during the ongoing Israel-Gaza war and its effects on our community.

  • Ruby Chames is Rosh Bogrim, the oldest group of Habonim Dror South Africa.

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