"We remain deeply concerned about the current state of human rights in South Africa," Human Rights Commission spokesperson Isaac Mangena has said.
Many South Africans continue to struggle for the protection of basic human rights, a number of organisations said on Human Rights Day on Thursday.
Mangena highlighted recent cases of police brutality and said Parliament needed to pass legislation to prevent this kind of abuse. Police and courts needed to be better equipped to combat violence against women and girls.
Mangena emphasised that physical and sexual abuse against the elderly was of grave concern. He cited the rapes of several elderly women in KwaZulu-Natal old-age homes, as well as reports that drug addicts were robbing their elderly relatives for money.
"We call on the department of social development, as custodian of the Older Persons Act, to play a leading role in ensuring that the rights of the elderly are protected."
Mangena said the fact that some South Africans, especially those in rural areas, still did not have access to basic facilities like water, sanitation and food remained unthinkable.
Thursday's public holiday commemorates the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, when police shot dead 69 anti-apartheid protesters.
Protection of human rights
The African National Congress said Human Rights Day should remind South Africans of the resilience of those who fought for the protection of human rights. The party praised the country's Constitution.
"We call on all our people to respect our Constitution and uphold it as the supreme law of our country," party spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said.
The ANC Women's League said it would hand over a memorandum on Thursday as part of the launch of a campaign against gender-based violence.
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille on Thursday marked Human Rights Day by renaming streets and public places in the city after those who had fought for freedom in South Africa.
"Our naming and renaming process is a way of reclaiming our common history and changing our very way of thinking and, in so doing, recognising our shared past," De Lille said in a speech prepared for delivery.
"While the people celebrated here today may no longer be with us, their struggle will remain, honoured each and every day by bearing their names across the grids of this metro."
She mentioned the likes of Pan Africanist Congress founder Robert Sobukwe, ANC stalwarts Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu, political activist Dulcie September, writer Uys Krige and Japtha K Masemola, one of the founding members of the PAC's armed struggle against apartheid.
Scourge of violence
Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said the country needed to fight the scourge of violence with the same level of determination as it did apartheid.
"We must not stop until every woman is free from fear and oppression, free to live a life that she chooses, in a society in which her human rights are protected," Mazibuko said in a speech prepared for delivery in Sharpeville.
"Former president Nelson Mandela taught us how to break the deadly cycle of violent abuse. Madiba said that freedom from abuse can only be accomplished by setting free the abuser as well as the abused."
Mazibuko said the surge of rape and sexual violence against women was a national emergency and demanded accountability.
South Africa needed Parliament to fight for the rights of those who faced the most heart-wrenching forms of violence.
The Federation of Unions of South Africa's vice-president Martle Keyter said women and girls needed to feel safer in South Africa and that everyone was responsible for upholding the values of the Constitution.
"Our Constitution is widely respected around the world, and yet the South African government is failing to uphold the very values and rights that it enshrines.
"This extends to us as individual South Africans, as we are failing to restructure our democratic society into one which provides a safe, promising and above all equal environment for our women and girls. We are profoundly violating their human rights on a daily basis,” Keyter said. – Sapa