Activate Change Drivers held a discussion forum to celebrate International Women’s Day and reflect on Human Rights as part of its March calendar of events, writes Nelson Simelane
In South Africa, March is known as Human Rights Month. On the international calendar, March features International Women’s Day, a day set aside to celebrate women globally and put their challenges under the spotlight. Human Rights Day has an important history behind it, captured brutally by the March 21 1960 Sharpeville Massacre and the adoption of the South African Constitution, which contains in it the universally lauded Bill of Rights to undo our racist past which showed absolute disdain for human rights. For this reason, March 21 is Human Rights Day, commemorating both the Langa and Sharpeville protests against pass laws. On the said day, the apartheid regime unleashed brute force on unarmed citizens, killing 69 of them and injuring several hundreds. Therefore, Human Rights Day serves as an honour to those victims and a memorial to their sacrifice in the struggle against apartheid.
In light of this crucial history, on 31 March 2021 Activate Change Drivers, in partnership with other stakeholders and youth formations, organised a reflection session of both human and women’s rights. The celebration, which took place at the Kwamashu Hall in KwaZulu Natal, was aimed at reaffirming the fact that human rights are incomplete without the safety and empowerment of women. Progressive organisations such as Raising Hope Community Project, Living Art, Ubuciko Bemlomo Infotainment, eThekwini Youth Centre and others sent their delegations to take part in the discussions of the day.
The discussions reminded young people of the importance of human rights and educated them about their responsibilities. The nature of the event was participatory, allowing attendees to engage each other on various matters relating to human rights and the question of women. The discussions took the form of breakaway commissions, in which different classifications of human rights were explored. At the end, the groups were implored to make a presentation of their engagements from the commissions.
Many young people who attended found the event educational and expressed their gratitude that they were a part of it. Ubuciko Bemlomo Infotainment’s Nhlanhla hailed the event as important, saying: “My highlight of the day is that some people are actually not aware of their rights and those that know them forget about responsibilities. We need more events like this all over the country.”
Nkosinathi Sisiya from Living Art concurred with Zuzu that the event was a hub of information and ideas. He stated: “The lesson learnt is to fight not for us but for our future generations. The information I received I can use it to up lift myself in order to empower my fellow peers, teens and the whole community as such now I know my rights, how to use them and by not violating others.” For Nkosinathi, the group discussions empowered him to exchange thoughts with other champions and see things from their viewpoint.
However, not all was perfect, as the challenges of time delayed the event for over an hour. Artist Zuzu registered her grievances with punctuality, but also went on to join the mass choir of fulfilled participants who found the conversations necessary, if not long overdue. She stated: “The aim is to remember where we are coming from as a country and of course to celebrate the changes that we see or should I say what we have achieved so far. Human rights day to me is a celebration of wisdom and courage it simple means that whenever you feel that the change is needed you don’t just sit back but you take action. That is why it is important to celebrate it, it’s like saying take you to those who took the risk.”
Profoundly, Mr. Martins from Ubuciko Bemlomo noted that the fact that the Covid_19 pandemic potentially influenced different commissions to prioritise free and equal access to quality healthcare as an important human right of our times. Looking into the future, Mr. Martins emphasized the need to involve more youth-led movements and communities in such discussions. This is a view also shared by Bongumusa Zulu from Raising Hope Community Projects. “Next time they should give youth more time to participate so that their aim of creating the networking within people can be fulfilled.”
The event, which was an overwhelming success, followed all Covid_19 safety protocols and encouraged young people to become active agents in the fight against the pandemic.