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Sharpeville massacre victims remembered 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

President Cyril Ramaphosa has encouraged South Africans to continue to honour those who fought for the rights that all enjoy today and hold dear.

President Ramaphosa delivered the keynote address at the Human Rights Day commemoration in Sharpeville, Gauteng on Thursday, held under the theme: “Three Decades of Respect for and Promotion of Human Rights”.

“Sixty-four years have passed since the ground on which we gather here in Sharpeville bore witness to one of the worst atrocities committed by the apartheid regime against the South African people.

“And although many decades have passed, we still remember with great sorrow and pain the 69 people who were killed and the many more who were maimed as they protested in peace against the grave injustices imposed upon them,” the President said. 

Earlier, President Ramaphosa led a wreath laying ceremony at the Sharpeville memorial site in commemoration of South Africans who laid their lives in sacrifice for the struggle for the attainment of human rights and democratic South Africa.

He also met with family members of the fallen Sharpeville Massacre victims during the wreath laying ceremony.

Today’s gathering, he said, was held to trace the journey as a nation over the last 64 years, from a state of discrimination and repression to a land of democracy and freedom.

“Ours was a journey of relentless struggle. We still recall how every black South African – African, Coloured and Indian – was denied the basic human rights to which they were entitled.

“We recall how many generations of black South Africans were denied the right to life and dignity, the right to equal treatment, the right to vote and to be heard, the right to live where they want, to work in the trade of their choice, the right to education and health care, the right to the protection of the law,” he said. 

The President reflected that it was a difficult and dangerous journey travelled by community activists and union organisers, by traditional leaders and religious groupings, by freedom fighters and underground operatives, by political prisoners and exiles, and by friends and supporters across the world.

He added that it was a struggle to realise the rights contained in the Bill of Rights which called for equal treatment of all people, equal access to land, direct representation and voting rights.

“Ours was a struggle to realise the vision of the Freedom Charter, adopted by the Congress of People in 1955, of a South Africa that is prosperous and free and in which all enjoy equal rights and opportunities.

“It was these principles and these ideals, these struggles and these sacrifices, that enabled the achievement of our democracy and the adoption of the Bill of Rights that is at the centre of our democratic Constitution,” he said. 

And as the country celebrates this milestone, President Ramaphosa said the country will reflect on the journey taken towards the full realisation of the fundamental freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights.

“We will count the elections that we have held every five years since 1994, elections that have been peaceful, free and fair and that have reflected the will of the people.

“We will assess the institutions that make our laws, that both represent the views and regularly seek the counsel of the South Africans people. We will point to the independence of our judiciary, the vibrancy of our civil society, the activism of our trade unions and the freedom of our media.

“As we celebrate 30 years of freedom, we will reflect on the progress we have made in progressively realising the social and economic rights contained in our Constitution,” he said. 

The President said the country has much to celebrate as he detailed the progress made by government throughout the years. 

He highlighted that millions of South Africans have been lifted out of dire poverty, while eight out of every 10 households have proper housing. 

“Nine out of every 10 homes have electricity and access to clean drinking water. South Africans are living longer. Far fewer women are dying in child birth and far fewer children are dying in infancy.

“More children from poor families are completing school, passing matric and going on to study at universities and colleges,” he said. 

The President said this has been made possible because the country has focused on correcting the injustices of the past and meeting the needs of the poor and excluded.

He highlighted that working together, nearly 4 million hectares of land has been returned to people who had been dispossessed of their land and acquired over 5 million hectares of land for redistribution and to provide security of tenure for labour tenants and other farm dwellers.

Government has provided social grants for children, the elderly and people with disability, and recently introduced a special social relief of distress grant for unemployed people.

Government also provides free daily meals to millions of school children and has expanded the number of fee-free schools and has massively increased funding for students from poor and working-class families to attend universities and colleges.

“As our economy has changed, more and more people have been able to exercise the right to freely choose their trade, occupation or profession. Our economy has tripled in size since 1994.

“While unemployment still remains unacceptably high, the number of South Africans in employment has more than doubled in the last 30 years. The proportion of executive management positions held by black people increased almost five-fold between 1996 and 2016,” he said. – SAnews