Tuesday is South Africa Human Rights Day. On this date in 1960, police killed 69 people in Sharpville, who were protesting the country’s pass laws.
During apartheid, the laws required all Africans in and around South African towns to carry a document known as a pass. Failure to do so meant arrest or forced relocation. But what does Human Rights Day mean today in South Africa? English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua posed that question to Jody Kollapen, chairperson of the country’s Human Rights Commission.
He says, “I think in the last 12 years (since the end of apartheid) there’s been considerable progress made in South Africa in regard to establishing a culture of human rights. At the same time I think South Africa’s constitutional model, which we adopted in 1994, set the bar quite high in terms of the kind of aspirations that the new society identified for itself.” Kollapen elaborates on what’s been achieved. “It is clear that we’ve put in place strong legal and constitutional frameworks. So much so, that we have a parliament that functions pretty well independently from executive in terms of its lawmaking and oversight role. We have an independent judiciary characterized by a constitutional court that is vigilant and fearless in exercising its oversight role. We have institutions such as the Human Rights Commission, the gender commission, the Electoral Commission. I also think that there’s been considerable legislation, law reform and service delivery to take forward the idea of a society characterized by human rights,” he says.
But he says obstacles remain and identifies three of them. “One would say inequalities still exist at levels that are unacceptably high, inequalities between rich and poor, between white and black, between rural and urban.