South Africa

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY

Ramaphosa honours Sharpeville dead — and highlights keeping indigenous languages alive

President Cyril Ramaphosa meets with families at the wreath laying ceremony at the Sharpeville Memorial in Sharpeville, Gauteng. Photo: Twitter/@myanc

The ANC held a rally in Sharpeville in commemoration of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre on Human Rights Day. President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke about the strides the ANC government had made on human rights since 1994. Outside the venue, ANC members remained hopeful that the president will deliver on his message of renewal.

A large crowd of ANC supporters gathered at the George Thabe Stadium in Sharpeville to hear President Cyril Ramphosa’s speech of commemoration for the 69 people who were killed in 1960 during a peaceful march against unjust pass laws.

Speaking inside a large tent, overflowing with ANC members, Ramaphosa spoke of the sacrifices made for freedom during apartheid, but dedicated a large part of his speech to the “promotion of indigenous languages” — a theme borrowed from the United Nations pronouncement of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

According to Ramaphosa, the UN theme has “great resonance with South African history” where “languages were used as an instrument to subjugate”. And with the victory in 1994, the ANC was able to restore the standing of all indigenous languages, he said.

Ramaphosa said that when former President Nelson Mandela signed the Constitution in Sharpeville, which protects the rights of all languages, he affirmed “the dignity and worth of every South African” by “promoting and deepening a human rights culture”.

It is said that when a language dies, a way of understanding the world dies with it,” said Ramaphosa.

Some ANC members stood outside in the blistering sun as they listened to Ramaphosa over the loudspeakers. For most, the day was more of a celebration of how far the ANC had come over the past few months since Ramaphosa took over as president.

ANC member Logan Swanepoel (19), at an ANC Rally in Sharpeville during Human Rights Day, on 21 March 2019. Photo: Sumeya Gasa

ANC member Logan Swanepoel, 19, at the ANC rally in Sharpeville on Human Rights Day, 21 March 2019 (Photo: Sumeya Gasa)

Logan Swanepoel is a 19-year-old volunteer for the Thuma Mina Project, set up to campaign for votes for the upcoming 8 May elections. She joined the ANC in 2018 after being recruited by ANC members during a work placement programme at Harambee Youth Empowerment Accelerator.

She has since become a member of the Reiger Park ANC Youth League in her neighbourhood.

According to Swanepoel, Human Rights Day forms an important part of the tradition of South Africa to celebrate the history of those who were killed during apartheid. Although Swanepoel was not aware of the historical details of the holiday, she says from the “basics” she learnt at school she understands it’s significance.

After completing the work placement programme, Swanepoel received an internship at the Ekurhuleni Municipality. She says she has seen the good works of the ANC and believes that Ramaphosa will bring about renewal in the party.

The party has accepted its faults and its past and has confronted Zuma,” said Swanepoel.

ANC member Sibusiso Ntsali (27), at an ANC Rally in Sharpeville during Human Rights Day, on 21 March 2019. Photo: Sumeya Gasa

According to Sibusiso Ntsali, 27, secretary of the Victor Pikani Branch in Thembisa, since Ramaphosa became president, there had been a number of companies willing to invest in South Africa, because of the Investment Summit.

Ntsali arrived with 60 others on a bus organised by his branch to commemorate the Sharpeville massacre where, according to him, people “fought for freedom and jobs”.

For Ntsali, this was an important day. He was continuing a legacy from his mother who used to take him to ANC meetings when he was young.

These days I come alone, I left her at home,” said Ntsali with a smile.

When asked about the ongoing corruption allegations against ANC members, Ntsali said he was happy Ramaphosa “commissioned” Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo to look into State Capture. Although some people who were named are on the parliamentary list for elections, he believes they will be dealt with after the polls.

Let’s deal with the election and then corruption after. We can’t be distracted right now, we will deal with it after,” said Ntsali.

Jane Mazibuko (left) and Elizabeth Masangani (right), at an ANC Rally in Sharpeville during Human Rights Day, on 21 March 2019 Photo: Sumeya Gasa

Jane Mazibuko, 58, came to the ANC rally with her friend Elizabeth Masangani,78, to “remember the people who were shot and killed”. Both live in Sharpeville.

Mazibuko, who says she has become a “neutral person” politically, has voted for the ANC over the years, but now she does not know which party to vote for in the coming elections.

She says she is inclined to vote for a Christian party and might try the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP).

Mazibuko believes that Ramaphosa has good intentions, but “the damage has already been done”. The roads are filthy and there are no jobs, she said.

In 1994 we were so thirsty for voting because we wanted freedom,” said Mazibuko.

Masangani, says she was in Sharpeville the day the massacre happened, although she was not at the police station where they were killed. Human Rights Day allows her to remember that day and the people who were killed.

Politically, she says she is willing to “support any party” as long as it will do good for people. When asked who she will vote for, Masangani said that her vote is her secret and that when she goes to the voting booth she will choose a party that will help young people get off the streets and give them jobs.

ANC member Ian Nokumi (39), at an ANC Rally in Sharpeville during Human Rights Day, on 21 March 2019. Photo: Sumeya Gasa

Ian Nokumi, 39, chairperson of Harry Themba Gwane Branch in the City Of Johannesburg Ward 59, after the 1994 transition into democracy, the ANC declared 21 March a day to commemorate “comrades who were killed” in the struggle.

It is a day that the party shows its strength for the upcoming elections, said Nokumi.

Nokumi is confident that the ANC will win outright and there won’t be any coalitions in government. And although the State Capture scandal looms in the background, Nokumi says a commission is not a court of law.

All the comrades that the commission implicated, they have not been given a chance to go and defend themselves,” said Nokumi.

According to Nokumi, the ANC cannot rely on accusations.

He says he expects a 70% electoral victory in the 8 May elections, because of how hard the branches have been working in the past four months while campaigning. DM

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