To set the tone for Human Rights Day, the Pretoria News and the Centre for Human Rights asked students to write what human rights meant to them. Picture: Facebook

Pretoria – A student wished for free education for all, while the director of the Centre for Human Rights at UP, Professor Frans Viljoen, hoped tragedies such as the Sharpeville massacre – commemorated on Human Rights Day – would never happen again.

To set the tone for Human Rights Day, the Pretoria News and the Centre for Human Rights set up a huge poster outside the Law Faculty building on the Hatfield campus and asked students to write messages stating what human rights meant to them in today’s context.

The response was overwhelming, and in no time, the area in front of the building was buzzing.

The students discussed their take on human rights and wrote their thoughts on the poster.

Some took it extremely seriously, while others saw a lighter side, using graphics to illustrate their thoughts on human rights.

The messages were written in various languages spoken in Africa.

To the students, human rights had a variety of meanings, including a borderless world

“We are born free and equal with dignity and rights regardless of difference."

“And, peace and dignity.”

Denouncing the latest outbreak of attacks on foreign nationals, one student wrote “we are all equal, no one should be discriminated (against). Stop racism and xenophobia.”

Pretoria News staff added their comments and the poster is now displayed on the glass doors on the ground floor of the Pretoria News building in Madiba Street in the city centre where it is attracting the attention of passersby.

The messages were written mostly by senior students who are doing Master’s degrees in human rights democratisation in Africa. They were joined by Viljoen and other senior officials from the faculty.

Monica Tabengwa, from Botswana, said Human Rights Day was an opportunity to spread the message of equality and dignity and other human rights stipulated in the Bill of Rights.

“We are all human and come from different places with diverse cultures all over the continent. However, our differences should not mean some of us are less human than others."

“And colour, disability or sexual orientation should not define us,” Tabengwa told the Pretoria News.

She said she had spent most of her studying time working on human rights and could relate to the violation of human rights.

“I am a lesbian. So I have been discriminated against because I have a sexual orientation that is not appreciated by men and society. By so doing they are denying me a lot of rights that I am entitled to.”

However, Tabengwa said that despite often being discriminated against because of her sexual orientation, she believed she was just as human as the next person.

“I am able to contribute to whichever society I live in. I deserve to be treated equally.”

Jackline Hakim, a South Sudanese doing her Master’s degree in human rights democratisation in Africa, said human rights were all about entitlement.

Hakim said she had learnt to value the right to freedom of movement and residence. She said she had previously encountered a violation of that right.

“I spent many years in The Gambia before I came to South Africa to study. I only had a permit and my identity document then and no passport. So, people knew about that and would refer to me as stateless.”

Hakim added that it was during that time when she realised that people had a tendency to discriminate against one another because of their nationality and citizenship.

“When you have a national identity, you are acknowledged as an individual in all walks of life, but without that, you are denied the right to be human.”

Hakim strongly shared the grief of people without birth certificates. “If you don’t have a birth certificate, people would regard you as a stateless person because you don’t have a sense of belonging."

“Those kind of people are denied rights such as health care and shelter because they don’t have the required identification.”

Viljoen said: “Human Rights Day is a reminder to the nation that a Sharpeville massacre should never happen again.”

He likened the Sharpevillle massacre to the Marikana tragedy, but said the difference between the two historic events was the constitutional context of today, where events of that nature were thoroughly investigated.

“The difference is, in the post-Sharpeville massacre (era), using the constitutional context of today, these events are being investigated."

“They are framed by the Constitution and accountability is taken,” said Viljoen.

“Human rights is the idea of accountability."

“It is the ideology emphasised to an extent that when something is done to me or anyone I have a legal basis to say what has happened to me need not happen.”

The official government message on Tuesday will be delivered by President Jacob Zuma at Victoria Grounds, King Williams Town, in the Eastern Cape.

The Pretoria News will not be publishing on Tuesday. Please do not miss our edition on Wednesday for news on Human Rights Day.

Pretoria News