Everyone has human rights. It does not matter if you are male or female, old or young, what language you speak, what religion you follow, who you love, or what you look like. Everyone has the same rights just because they are human. Human rights are written in the bill of rights. This law makes sure that our human rights cannot be violated or taken away.

Human Rights Day is celebrated on 21 March each and every year. This national day reminds us that human rights are valuable and must be protected. It also reminds us about what can happen when people’s human rights are not recognised and respected.

Human Rights Day commemorates the events of 21 March 1960. On this day, police shot at a group of people protesting against having to carry passbooks everywhere they go. It became known as the Sharpeville massacre after the town of Sharpeville where it happened. People had to have their passbooks stamped by their employers. If black people wanted to be in a white area, they had to have permission to travel stamped into their books. In other ways these books were used to control black people.

Every year after 1960, people gathered to remember those who lost their lives on the 21 March. It was named the Sharpeville massacre. Sometimes when people protested, they were attacked by the police. We now have human rights in South Africa, but we also have responsibilities. One of our most important responsibilities is respecting other people’s human rights. We must make sure that other people’s rights are not violated. It is also our responsibility to respect our laws, which begin with human rights.

The people fighting for their human rights were part of the struggle. It was called the struggle because it was very difficult. They struggled for a very long time. The struggle was non-violent for so many years. But then after the shooting on 21 March 1960, it became clear that the peaceful demonstrations were not working. The peaceful struggle then turned into an armed struggle. Eventually thousands of people died in the struggle against apartheid.

When South Africa was still a colony, several separate tribal areas were created. They later become homelands or Bantustans. It was decided that black people had to live in these areas. From 1913, the Land Act allowed black Africans land. They could not make a living off this land. After gold and diamonds were discovered, black people in tribal areas were forced to pay taxes so that the men would have to go and work on the mines.

Pass laws first appeared in 1828. Before that, only Cape slaves had to carry passes. Passes were pieces of paper giving all the information about that person. Black people were only allowed to enter the cape colony to look for work if they had a pass. Otherwise they would be arrested. From the 1920’s the government used the pass system to control the movement of black people. In that way, they were prevented from taking jobs that poor white people could have. People hated passbooks and called them Dompas . This means stupid pass in Afrikanns. People such as religious ministers, doctors, and lawyers didn’t have to carry a pass. They did have to carry a document showing that they had an exemption. Later this right was taken away.

In 1952, the apartheid government made a new law about passes. It was called the Abolition of passes. The government stopped passes but made reference books. These were much worse. People had to carry the new reference book. It became harder for black people to move around the country. Ever since pass laws were started, people tried to fight against them. Political organisations and trade unions tried to have pass law stopped. Many political organisations were also involved in peaceful campaigns to end apartheid.

Police were allowed to stop any black person in the streets and demand to see their reference book. This brutality went on for so many years till 1990 when Mr. Nelson Mandela was released from prison.