South Africa

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY

Activists must continue the fight to preserve democracy, Community House gathering told on Human Rights Day

Illustrative image. Photo: Adobestock

While apartheid might be over, activism and a sense of community was still needed in South Africa if the country is to be truly free and democratic for those who live in it. On Human Rights Day, activists gathered at one of Cape Town’s most historic sites of activism and resistance to talk about the role activism plays in a democracy.

Activists should not stop working to fight for the rights of their communities, even though South Africans have been liberated from apartheid, said speakers at a panel discussion at Community House, a historic site of Cape Town’s activism.

On Human Rights Day, Capetonians gathered at Community House to celebrate the building and its history through day-long cultural activities, film screenings and panel discussions. From the 1980s, many activists met and held resistance meetings in the Salt River site.

Community House was declared a provincial heritage site by the Western Cape provincial government in 2012.

One of the discussions for the day was titled “The Role of Activism in Democracy”.The main theme was that activism should be continued in communities, even though the apartheid regime had been defeated.

Panel chair Brenda Leonard reminded the audience what 21 March actually stood for — the killing of apartheid resisters in Sharpeville, Gauteng, who refused to carry passbook.

Leonard referred not only to the 69 people killed at Sharpeville, but to the resisters who handed themselves over to police stations across South Africa, including in Langa.

Panellist Shirley Gunn, a former uMkhonto weSizwe commander, told the audience “the campaign in 1960 was against the pass laws”. Gunn explained that the day was intended as a “passive resistance campaign” for people to leave their required pass books at home and report to police stations to be arrested.

Gunn said that she agreed with sentiments that called for 21 March to be named “Sharpeville Day” to honour the heroes who died not only on that day in 1960, but those who died in the days following the massacre.

Marcus Solomons, a former political prisoner and now head of the Children’s Rights Centre, questioned the audience on what it meant to be an activist by saying:

You join because you want to help people. You must be an activist for all your life – that’s what I believe.”

Solomons said activists are still needed in communities, especially to fight for the rights of children, especially those within people’s communities.

Let us link up with people in our community,” he said, but warned that those who became activists, whether they were female, male, young or old, needed to “at all times, make sure you are a servant of the people”.

Community activist Sharone Daniels from Right2Know spoke about community involvement in projects that would ultimately benefit that community, and to not to let government officials break through bonds among activist organisations through the offering of incentives and jobs. Daniels labelled this as “destabilising”, where activist groups are broken apart when such incentives and jobs are given.

As activists, we need to stick together,” she said.

Daniels appealed to the audience to scrutinise parties’ manifestos ahead of the elections, to question politicians on promises and manifestoes — and to “let us make democracy work”.

Solomons had the last word by saying communities needed to organise within themselves “dit is belangrik” (it is important) and that while individuals come and go, “organisations remain”. DM

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