Human Rights Day 2021 – An Opportunity to Learn, Listen and Grow

Kolisi Foundation

Human rights are the fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because we are human beings, regardless of age, ethnic origin, location, language, religion, ethnicity, or any other status. In one of Nelson Mandela’s speeches, he mentioned that “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity”. People are born equal and therefore entitled to an equal measure of Human rights.

Historically, Human Rights Day in South Africa is linked with 21 March 1960, and the events of Sharpeville. On that day 69 people died and 180 were wounded when police fired on a peaceful crowd who gathered in protest against the Pass laws. This day marked an affirmation by ordinary people, rising in unison to proclaim their rights.

Today is an opportunity to reflect on our hard-fought collective freedoms, celebrate our progress and confront our failures and shortcomings. Recognising that we have to continue to learn, listen and grow in the space.

Whether we are at the workplace, within communities, at schools, or with our partners and children, we all need to demonstrate the kind of responsibility that we would like to see in our country’s future. We have a responsibility towards South Africa, home to the Rainbow Nation under the wings of UBUNTU (I am because you are) to be human rights activists that seek to shape a better reality and future for the generations to come. 

We asked the Kolisi Foundation Team to reflect and respond to a question: What role can we as fellow South Africans play in our daily walk to be Human Rights torch-bearers?

Here is what they Kolisi Foundation Team said:

Lusanda: To listen to other people’s stories of pain, and commit to being part of their healing, reclaiming their agency and value.

Rachel: To learn, and to always choose to learn. And try and understand the beauty of someone else’s past, upbringing and journey. Realize that it is different from yours, and that is okay. It doesn’t make it any less or more wonderful.

Siya: Learning more about South Africa’s history to understand our roots and show gratitude to those who fought for our freedom.

Alison: We can choose to see all people as equal, with lived experience and a story to tell, that allows us opportunities to learn and grow.

Joel: We can and must continue to invite those around us into uncomfortable conversations and guide them in their understanding of human rights issues. 

Valerie: We can commit to being lifelong learners. Whenever we think we understand an issue or injustice we can ask: ‘What else is going on here?’, ‘What don’t I know?’ and ‘Who can I listen to?’.

Ncedo: As South Africans, we have the opportunity to live out the true meaning of UBUNTU – I am because you are.

Anica: We should strive to not be complicit and stubborn in our learnings. Leave space to unlearn, learn, grow and listen. And effectively listen to understand, not to respond. 

Lauren: As everyday citizen, we need to take the time to realize and understand the vast inequalities within South Africa and ensure that we stand up and act in the fight towards human rights for all. 

Mahlatse: I am responsible for seeing, naming and dismantling the things that dehumanise people. I am responsible for creating, finding and amplifying the things that affirm others’ humanity and bring life to communities.

Amber: Educating ourselves will allow us to develop a better understanding of things we may not know. It provides an opportunity to continue learning and growing.

What will you do to be a Human Rights torch-bearers in your surroundings? Are you willing to learn, grow and listen?