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Let us cherish human rights

Opinion
Tomorrow we remember the sacrifice of the 72 people - ordinary South Africans - who marched against injustice in Sharpeville and Langa and paid the ultimate price.

A crowd of 7000 people marched to the Sharpeville police station to hand in their passbooks, the notorious dompasses that rendered them (in the immortal words of Sol Plaatje) pariahs in the land of their birth.

Doing this would constitute a crime, but the organisers hoped that doing it en masse across the country would paralyse the apartheid police state.

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Tumo Makhetha and Nyama Makhuparetjia from Fundulazwi Secondary School in Sebokeng, look at a mural at the Sharpville memorial site. Picture: Dumisani Dube

In Langa, police baton-charged and then shot at 6000 anti-pass law protesters.

The protests on the Rand and outside Cape Town on March 21, 1960, were peaceful demonstrations.

The protesters were unarmed. The police panicked and opened fire, killing 69 in Sharpeville and injuring scores.

Three protesters were killed in Langa and 26 injured.

What happened that day would prove to be a catalyst for a shift in gear both in the Struggle for liberation of this country and state repression.

There is a direct link that can be neither erased nor forgotten between the events on those dusty streets of Sharpeville and Langa, and the democratic liberation of our country on April 27, 1994 - recognised by immortalising this date as Human Rights Day every year.

It is only fitting that we remember how ordinary men and women stood up in the face of an increasingly repressive state that had denied them of not just the right to vote, but stripped them of the right to be human; unable to compete equally for jobs; to live where they chose; to even fight against arbitrary harassment and detention by the police.

We forget how these people shook the very edifice of one of the most powerful regimes on the continent.

Most of all, if we forget their sacrifice, we squander their legacy because we tarnish the miracle of what we have today by not appreciating that which we have received.

The lesson of Sharpeville and Langa is about human rights.

We have the right to freedom, to dignity, to fairness; irrespective of our station in society.

Let’s cherish that tomorrow.

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