HUMAN RIGHTS DAY 2017: A sacrifice for democracy


HUMAN RIGHTS DAY 2017: A sacrifice for democracy
By Lathasha Subban

South Africa in the 1960’s witnessed many incidents that protested against apartheid and racism. The fight for human dignity, equality and basic recognition as a human being was ongoing and in many instances ended up in tragedy.

“Human Rights Day is a national day that is commemorated annually on 21 March to remind South Africans about the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for the attainment of democracy in South Africa.” Source:

The 21st March 1960, where the townships of Sharpeville and Langa embarked on a protest against pass laws, ended in tragedy as 69 protestors were shot and killed by apartheid policemen. This tragedy become famously known as the “Sharpeville Massacre”. As dark was the time, the deaths of these human beings shone light on the apartheid government’s violation of human rights, not just within South Africa but to the entire world.

South Africa has journeyed forward away from such darkness’s to the light of democracy, equality, liberation and freedom. Though still facing many a challenge, the country protects its citizens through its Constitution, which is a powerful and strong shield. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has the role as the “national human rights institution mandated by South Africa’s Constitution to protect, promote, and monitor human rights in the country. Furthermore, the SAHRC has a mandate to investigate, report, facilitate redress where applicable, carry out research, and educate on human rights.

The SAHRC was established in 1995, and is a chapter 9 institution. Chapter 9 institutions are mandated by South Africa’s constitution and are mandated to guard constitutional democracy.”[1] The SAHRC is there to ensure that our constitutional rights are upheld and maintained.


The Constitution for the Republic of South Africa, 1996
These rights include:

Equality – everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.

Human dignity – everyone has inherent dignity and have their dignity respected and protected.

Freedom of movement and residence – everyone has a right to freedom of movement and to reside anywhere in the country.

Language and culture – everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice.

Life – everyone has the right to life.


Though we focus on human rights within South Africa, history has revealed that human rights were fought in many eras and in many countries. Dating as far back from 3000 years ago, when religious texts “emphasized the importance of equality, dignity and responsibility to help others originate from the Hindu Vedas, Agamas and Upanishads; Judaic text the Torah; 2,500 years ago, Buddhist Tripitaka and A guttara-Nikaya and Confucianist Analects, Doctrine of the Mean and Great Learning, 2,000 years ago, Christian New Testament, and 600 years later, Islamic Qur’an,”[2] to current times when we advocate for human rights that are violated through modern slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and child labour to name a few. Countries have ensured that human rights are protected through their legislation and encourages practice of equality, respect of human dignity and fairness through guiding principles and texts.


The United Nations (UN) is exemplary of a global institution advocating of human rights, with its Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the influential role creating awareness by and advising businesses on their obligations to address any adverse human rights impacts caused through their operations.



The SABPP has recently produced a fact sheet on Modern Slavery that advocates for the preservation of human rights and how it can be identified within the workplace. Our preoccupation as South African HR professionals with the implementation of transformational employment legislation aimed at redressing the human development impediments of apartheid presents the risk that human rights issues which attract a higher profile in other countries, yet requiring our attention, pass us by.

But consider for just a moment the chocolate wrapper in your waste bin (and the child labour possibly involved in harvesting the chocolate’s cocoa content), the sparkling sheen of your car’s metallic paint or your glamour-look eye shadow (both achieved using the mineral mica, known to be mined in some regions by victims of debt bondage), the many other minerals mined in conflict regions, then used in countries known for the prevalence of forced migrant labour to manufacture the electronic components of your mobile phone.

The truth is that modern slavery exists to some or other extent in both our personal and our business supply chains. This growing phenomenon has implications for organisations that are concerned with their sustained success in a world that increasingly demands that businesses take responsibility for their direct and indirect human rights impacts.

32.pngThe SABPP Anti-Racism Pledge

In March 2016, the SABPP in partnership with Mindcor, launched their stand against racism. During a time when racist remarks were frequenting the social media platforms, the SABPP supported human rights by encouraging their members to stand up against racism. As the HR professional body of South Africa, “Racism stops with me.” Awareness starts with individuals, and its business awareness starts with HR driving it.

Human resources share the “Human” aspect of human rights. The commonality is not by coincidence, but by design and association. HR is the custodian of “human” resources and thereby responsible in ensuring protection of those “human” resources rights. HR is responsible to guide and lead the business to practice respect of culture, diversity and race; tolerance in each individual’s uniqueness; fairness in behaviour, thinking and decision making; and recognition of human dignity for one another.

In the words of former President Nelson Mandela, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realised. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Many humanitarians have lived their lives fighting for human rights. They never gave up on trying, on persevering, on creating awareness, attempting to change minds and behavior; so why should we not carry on?

Human Rights Day in South Africa is the day we as South Africans carry on with the fight for human rights; persevere to achieve fairness, equality and respect; and not standing down under until every trace of violations against human rights has disappeared. May you celebrate Human Rights Day with dignity, pride, freedom, equality and respect.


This article was written by Lathasha Subban, Head: Knowledge and Innovation of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).  For more information on the article or fact sheet/s, you can contact Ms Subban on

Follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1 or visit their website on



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