/ 21 March 2024

Ubuntu and a human rights culture remains our lodestar

Safrica Apartheid Mandela Obit
Wounded people lie in the street on March 21, 1960 in Sharpeville, where security forces massacred 67 protesters. In 1960, police shot 69 black people in the Sharpeville township, south of Johannesburg, during a protest against pass laws, which restricted black people's movement. (STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images)

The iconic and disturbing photographs from the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre capture the funeral of 69 people shortly after the tragic event, as seen in an aerial image taken by renowned photographer Jürgen Schadeberg. The photograph of a long line of graves and trucks transporting the victims’ coffins vividly portrays the human tragedy. 

This powerful image serves as a symbol of the hardships faced by black South Africans during apartheid, shedding light on the inhumane treatment they endured. The effect of this and similar images reverberated globally, bringing attention to the brutal realities of apartheid. 

During the apartheid era, black people were subjected to unimaginable horrors. They were stripped of their basic human rights, treated as second-class citizens and subjected to daily violence and discrimination. Dr AB Xuma, anti-apartheid activist and leader of the ANC, eloquently described the oppressive state of affairs, shedding light on the degrading treatment Africans endured at the hands of the authorities: “Flying squads, pick-up vans, troop-carriers and mounted police are all abroad irritating and exasperating Africans by indiscriminately demanding passes [and] handling them in an insulting and humiliating way.”  

The massacre should also serve as a reminder to never take for granted the human rights we continue to enjoy today. Our freedom was not free and many paid the ultimate price for us to be where we are today. These brave protestors did so knowing full well that being arrested or killed was the most likely outcome. Nonetheless, these heroes and heroines proceeded, driven by the desire to live in a free nation that cherished human rights.  

The images that shocked humanity have revisited us through the atrocities in Gaza, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others.  

This year marks the 64th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre and the main commemoration is at the George Thabe Stadium in Sharpeville, Gauteng. The commemoration coincides with the celebration of 30 years of freedom and will be held under the theme, Three Decades of Respect for and Promotion of Human Rights.  

Thirty years of freedom is a momentous occasion to celebrate the progress we have made in establishing a democratic society that upholds the equal rights of every individual. We are proud that successive administrations since 1994 have taken bold measures to ensure that these rights are realised for all South Africans. The Census 2022 provides a glimpse into a society that has seen improvements across various indicators. It shows a steady increase in the provision of housing and essential services such as electricity, water and waste removal over the past three decades. About two million disadvantaged households now receive free basic water, electricity and solid waste removal.

We are committed to enhancing the living conditions of impoverished, vulnerable and marginalised South Africans through our social assistance programme. This programme, in the form of grants, lies at the core of the government’s efforts to alleviate poverty and restore the dignity of our people.

Despite these significant achievements, the Census 2022 also highlights the areas that still require attention, and we are resolute in our determination to intensify our endeavours to create a brighter future for all, leaving no one behind. We acknowledge that much more needs to be done to tackle the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment, which has been exacerbated by our sluggish economic growth.

We remain encouraged that our economy is now recovering and has been spurred on by interventions through our Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan.

Rest assured, South Africans, that we are fully committed to tackling the pressing issues we are facing, such as the energy crisis, with a sense of urgency. We urge all citizens to join forces with us in overcoming these challenges together.

 As we commemorate 30 years of upholding human rights, it is crucial to remember that the sacrifices made by those before us were not for personal gain, but to progress humanity as a whole. The importance of fostering a culture based on ubuntu and human rights has never been more critical than it is now.

Let us therefore unite like the patriots who marched in 1960 and ensure that we build a country as envisaged by our founding fathers as well as those who sacrificed their lives for a just society. Using the Constitution as our guide we must work towards eradicating the divisions and injustices of the past and do more to build an inclusive society and economy.

Let’s do more together to construct a community capable of tackling water, land, health and education challenges, striving for equality as outlined in the Constitution. Looking ahead, the focus for the next three decades must be on establishing a society that upholds socio-economic rights — this marks the next chapter in our revolution. The face of poverty remains black and female and that cannot endure any longer. A society in which ubuntu and human rights becomes embedded in all facets of our culture and nationhood remains our lodestar we dare not fail.

Ronald Lamola is the minister of justice and correctional services.