In South Africa, Human Rights Day is celebrated on 21 March in remembrance of the Sharpeville massacre which took place on 21 March 1960. This massacre occurred as a result of protests against the Apartheid
regime in South Africa. The annual commemoration is a reminder about the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for the attainment of democracy in South Africa.
In 1948 the National Party came to power in South Africa and began to formalise segregation in a succession of laws that gave the government control over the movement of black people in urban areas
The Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952 extended Government control over the movement of Africans to urban areas and abolished the use of the Pass Book (a document which Africans were required to carry on them to ‘prove’ that they were allowed to enter a ‘white area’) in favour of a reference book which had to be carried at all times by all Africans. Failure to produce the reference book on demand by the police, was a punishable offence.
The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) proposed an anti-pass campaign to start on 21 March 1960. All African men were to take part in the campaign without their passes and present themselves for arrest.
Campaigners gathered at police stations in townships near Johannesburg where they were dispersed by police. At the Sharpeville police station a scuffle broke out. Part of a wire fence was trampled, allowing the crowd to move forward. The police opened fire, apparently without having been given a prior order to do so. Sixty-nine people were killed and 180 wounded.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) whose the aim is to promote respect for human rights, promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights, and to monitor and assess the
observance of human rights in South Africa was launched on 21 March 1996, 35 years after the Sharpeville massacre.