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21/03/2018 09:48 SAST | Updated 21/03/2018 11:38 SAST

HuffPost Team Weighs In On Human Rights Day

The concept of human rights should be treated as a verb, the consistent action of making sure that we as a nation correct, unlearn and rebuild.

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Noxolo Mafu, HuffPost deputy editor

On March 21, 1960, a shameful moment occurred in South Africa's history. The lives of 69 unarmed protestors ended with more than 100 people wounded, as our forefathers fought for the right to live in an equal and just society. Upon listening to the stories of my family members who lived through the apartheid era, I am often shocked at how much blood was spilt for the preservation of dignity. It is with that nauseous feeling that the words of our former president, Nelson Mandela, often ring in my head: "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another."

Reuters Photographer / Reuters
Former South African president Nelson Mandela. Reuters Photographer / Reuters

The 1960 scenes from Sharpeville should be unimaginable to a born-free such as me, and yet the visuals from Marikana burrow into my mind and the themes remain the same as those of Sharpeville. Ordinary South Africans stood their ground in both instances, to say: "Enough is enough" – and were horribly punished for that.

How is it that so many years after Sharpeville, we have students, workers and communities consistently fighting to preserve their essential rights? Violence remains the only way most South Africans feel they can be heard, and each year we get increasingly more comfortable with working through human rights issues by using violence.

The commemoration of Human Rights Day is centred on the idea of respecting the dignity of human beings and creating a level playing field for all. Knowing the unequal landscape in this country, it is clear that the intent to preserve dignity is not enough. This needs to be followed by plans that do not only rely on the work of government, but also the mobilisation of civil society and industries across the board.

How is it that so many years after Sharpeville, we have students, workers and communities consistently fighting to preserve their essential rights?

The concept of human rights should be treated as a verb, the action of making sure we as a nation correct, we unlearn and we rebuild – consistently. As the daze of the rainbow nation slowly fades away, it is clear that the commemoration of human rights has to be an everyday practice and a goal that continues to change form and shape as we progress as a country. Perhaps this public holiday should be used as an opportunity to take stock and declare the start of consistent, rigorous work to ensure that human rights remain a lived experience for all.

Sesona Ngqakamba, HuffPost news desk reporter

I do not know much about this day in history, because I was born almost 30 years after Sharpeville – but I do know without a doubt that many lives were lost simply because they were standing up for something – the right to move freely without the intimidation of being made to carry a document (a dompas, as I hear it was called) to prove that they belonged.

Therefore, the day to me simply means being woke within my own lane, without anyone bullying me or intimidating me. It means being able to express myself without being censored, as long as I am doing so respectfully and not breaking any law.

The little history I know about that day makes me appreciate the fact that I was able to go to the schools I went to, and attend the college I did to further my education – something that was almost impossible for all those who marched on that day.

So today I move and speak my opinions freely, and I am able to participate as an equal wherever I go because of the 69 lives that were lost on that day. And that is what Human Rights Day means to me – being woke!

Keystone via Getty Images
The aftermath of the massacre at Sharpeville, 48km from Johannesburg, in which 69 black South Africans lost their lives. Police opened fire on them during a demonstration against the rule which forces black citizens to carry passes.

Garreth van Niekerk, HuffPost news reporter

For me, the celebration of Human Rights Day passes by quite simply every year, without much thought about its significance.

Yes, I know that if it weren't for the work of human rights champions like Simon Nkoli, Eudy Simelane and Edwin Cameron, my partner and I wouldn't be able to hold hands in public or live safely together without fear of reprimand, or imprisonment.

But this year, I am going to try make an effort to spend a little time between brunch and the afternoon nap I have planned being grateful and remembering.

I know that without the 69 deaths at Sharpeville, I wouldn't have the peace I live with so comfortably today, or get to be friends and colleagues with the people I share my life with. I know that without that immense document sitting up there at Constitution Hill, that this would be a really sad, f**ked up place to call home.

But I don't really think about any of that at all anymore, I just kind of get on with living, because it really is quite easy for me now. But this year, I am going to try make an effort to spend a little time between brunch and the afternoon nap I have planned being grateful and remembering. Because, you know, a lot of people died so that I could.

Duenna Mambana, HuffPost entertainment reporter

The Apartheid Museum recently launched an initiative to remind us as South Africans just how much it cost for us to enjoy the freedoms we do today and for us to have the rights we do in 2018. Through the initiative, titled #BillOfRightsZA, the museum created a restaurant-like bill listing the number of lives lost during the apartheid regime.

Apartheid Museum

As I received my "bill" from the PR company concerned on one of the busiest days of the week, I stopped for a moment. Suddenly, I remembered. I remembered that the freedom I enjoy today to live, work and play anywhere I want in the land did not come cheaply.

It came back to me that when my great-grandfather died while fighting back against being forced out of his ancestral land in what is now known as the Kruger National Park by the apartheid government, it was not for mahala. I remembered how my grandfather had to run away from home and hide from the police at the time because they wanted him – in case he also fought against the dispossession.

There's no denying how, even after 24 years of democracy, South Africa still has more problems to address than triumphs when it comes to the rights of its people. But for a moment I chose to stop and remember how far we've come.

That said, I acknowledge that the system is constantly failing some of the most vulnerable members of society. It's unacceptable that we still have children dying in pit toilets at schools. The inequality that exists between the rich and the poor cannot continue unaddressed. Also, we can't have a government that reacts quickly to service calls in suburbs but takes weeks to fix broken sewer pipes in the township – after all, the right to human dignity is enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

The SA Constitution and Bill of Rights are the bibles that guide us and government to ensure that all rights are upheld.

Nkosinathi Shazi, HuffPost news desk reporter

Human Rights Day is the day when black South Africans were recognised as humans. The inhumane treatment of black South Africans during apartheid was inexplicable. It is the day of remembrance for the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre and a reminder that the rights of every single human being on Earth are priceless.

The South African Constitution and Bill of Rights are the bibles that guide us and government to ensure that all rights are upheld. Without this, Human Rights Day would not even be celebrated – it is under the guidance of the Constitution that South Africans know their rights.

Human rights should be all-inclusive, and if there are marginalised groups that are not being supported by this, then the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Human Rights Day have failed South Africans. Whether you are a differently abled citizen, or an able citizen, black, white, purple or orange, your rights are still your rights, because you are a human being.

Rizwana Variawa, HuffPost managing editor

It is anticipated that all public holidays, regardless of meaning, are spent recovering from a great night out as a reprieve from our daily hustle. Although this is mostly true, I do feel that Human Rights Day is one of the most important holidays.

I wish I could relate to it, but I don't. I was not part of the apartheid era and cannot imagine being told where to go, where to eat, to be home by a certain time, or to hold my pee in until I found an appropriate toilet, all the while being governed by a piece of paper that proves I'm allowed to be... well, basically, human.

Regardless of my lack of understanding, I am indescribably thankful to these 69 people who died that day for making this possible. For making it possible for those of us that followed to live a more humane life. They stood up for our rights as humans, regardless of race or gender or age, probably not expecting much and their struggle achieved the unimaginable.

Allowing me to be a little more unapologetically me. And although much more is probably required, I will be sure to raise my glass to them for allowing me to be out late, without my pass – and that to me is a cheers-worthy day.

UIG via Getty Images
Demanding to be arrested for flouting the pass laws, a crowd of about 5,000 to 7,000 black protesters went to the police station. The South African police opened fire on the crowd, killing 69 people.