President urges deeper reflection on national Human Rights Day

21 March 2020

President Cyril Ramaphosa has wished all South Africans a reflective national Human Rights Day, and called on all citizens to unite behind the national effort to minimize the rapid spread and ultimately, combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“We observe Human Rights Day at an extraordinary time for our country and the world, as we battle to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19,” President Ramaphosa said.

“The threat posed by this formidable adversary has compelled us to take unprecedented steps to protect the most fundamental human right of all, and that is the right to life," the President added.

South Africa annually observes Human Rights Day in remembrance of the tragic events of 21 March 1960 in Sharpeville and Langa. In Sharpeville police opened fired on a peaceful crowd protesting the racist pass laws, killing sixty nine and injuring more than 180 people.

Today marks 60 years since the Sharpeville Massacre.

"Regrettably this year we are not observing this day as we usually do by gathering in our numbers as we do with our national days. The prohibition of gatherings over 100 people is for the health and safety of all," the President said.

“This disruption is one of many necessary interventions we need to embrace as our nation sets out to meet a challenge that calls for unity, social solidarity and personal discipline among all South Africans.

“The right to life, to health and to economic activity is under threat from a virus that has necessitated that we dramatically alter our behavior as a nation. It further demands us to look at ourselves and the world around us in ways we have not imagined”.

The President said that South Africans can draw great strength from the way in which they have pulled together as a nation; working together closely with all sectors of society.

“If this coronavirus is to leave any positive legacy, let it be that it brought all of us closer together not just for survival in this moment but for our future together as a nation that is destined to overcome this challenge," President Ramaphosa said.

“As we work together in the best interests of our country, South Africa, today, the events of Sharpeville and Langa on this day sixty years ago remind us of a time when the majority of citizens enjoyed no protection or recognition by the state and were deprived of their fundamental right to dignity.

The theme for Human Rights Day 2020 - “The year of unity, socio-economic renewal and nation-building" – is a profound call to action for all of us to play our part in ensuring the recovery of every compatriot by the coronavirus as well as the recovery of our economy from the deep effects of this global pandemic.

“Let us be inspired today by the certainty that inspired the people of Sharpeville and Langa: that they would overcome. They did overcome. And so will we," the President said.

Media enquiries: Khusela Diko, Spokesperson to the President on 072 854 5707

Issued by: The Presidency