21/03/2018 07:14 SAST | Updated 21/03/2018 08:48 SAST

Sharpeville Youth: Enjoying Their Right To An Education

South Africans celebrate Human Rights Day today.

Gianluigi Guercia via Getty Images
The Sharpeville Heritage Memorial in Vereeniging commemorates the 69 people killed on March 21, 1960 during clashes between anti-passbook demonstrators and apartheid police. The names of those killed are inscribed on plaques to the right.

The Sharpeville Massacre is one of the most tragic events in South African history, another bloody stain left by the injustices of apartheid tyranny.

On March 21, 1960, between 5,000 and 20,000 (crowd estimates vary, and fluctuated during the morning) Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) supporters led by PAC struggle hero Robert Sobukwe held a demonstration against pass laws in Sharpeville.

The crowd marched to Sharpeville police station refusing to carry a dompas (the identity document black people were required by law to carry at all times), intending to hand themselves over for arrest and clog the judicial system.

Instead, police opened fire on the crowd, killing 69 people just metres from the police station. The incident inflamed world opinion, and the murderous response of the apartheid state to an attempt at non-violent civil disobedience – as used by Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King Jr in the U.S – led many in both the PAC and the ANC to believe that an armed struggle was unavoidable.

The Sharpeville Massacre led to the banning of the ANC and PAC, among other groups, and the formation of uMkhonto weSizwe and Poqo, the armed wings of the ANC and PAC respectively. Sharpeville Day on March 21 was commemorated throughout the struggle, both in South Africa and among freedom fighters in exile. After the advent of democracy in 1994, March 21 became an official public holiday: Human Rights Day.

Today, Seesio Street, where the massacre occurred, is buzzing. Young people walk to and from classes at the local community centre.

HuffPost spoke to a confident Nkululeko Sigasa, who says he feels free. He is one of the many young people who believes the right to an education is pivotal.

"I have a lot of opportunities to choose what to do or the career I would like to pursue, not like back in the day when we [black people] were oppressed by them [white people]," the 22-year-old said.

"Even the old people; they are able to get the opportunity to get an education," he added.

Manana Maloka is a 20-year-old who says she can enjoy her life because "our grandfathers fought for us to enjoy basic education".

"Everybody has the right to do everything, basically there is so much opportunity," Maloka said.

Katleho Sefako said that while people can enjoy their rights, they have to be cognisant of the responsibilities that come with it.

"Most people just accept their rights without regarding their responsibilities, they infringe on those rights for other human beings as well," he said.

Sefako said the day "certifies the importance of human lives" because "it is the day that we kind of secured our rights".

He says freedom of expression is extremely important for him, but this is not possible without the firm foundation of education.

"If some rights are secured, they do lead to other rights. If you have the right to education, for instance, you are able to understand your other rights," he said.

Read: Human Rights Day 2017: Human Rights Are Not Yet A Lived Reality For All

Paballo Meli said Human Rights Day is a day on which black people celebrate.

"Being able to go to school and rewriting matric" is what she is grateful for.

Song, dance and colour is expected at the celebrations, which will be held in Sharpeville on Wednesday. Deputy President David Mabuza is expected to commemorate the day with the community.