March 21st is the day that South Africa celebrates Human Rights Day! Very different from the world that celebrates International Human Rights Day on December 10th. I guess we just like to do it twice because, why not? We is cool like that!!
The definition I was given from primary school, I think, the most basic for what Human Rights are is “Fundamental rights that you are entitled to simply because you are human.” Somewhere in my education I remember being told that when defining a word you should not be using the word itself in your definition. I guess in this definition one would need to define the word rights and the word human, but I have utmost faith in you, I’m sure you know exactly what they mean.
These rights are meant to be quite basic, in the sense that they are universal and anyone can understand them without the need for additional interpretation. For as long as you are human, alive and breathing you have rights. Side note: I recall a conversation in an ethics course which made this tricky, what if you are an unconscious human, technically still alive and being assisted to breathe, how far do your rights extent, which can be circumstantial? Something to think about.
In essence our rights are meant to be:
… as highlighted in our Constitution, Chapter 2. Like everything, it looks good on paper, but it might not always be the case of what is happening practically. It happens on a daily basis where someone acts in a discriminatory manner towards another human being, or in the past people of colour were not recognised as people and therefore not given rights or the same rights as Whites. On paper the right itself is only attempting to rectify a wrong; practically, it is some humans who are not willing to accept what is on paper as true.
We celebrate Human Rights Day as a reminder that we have come a long way historically and we can never forget Sharpeville in 1960 along with the people that lost their lives in an inhumane way. We still have a long way to go into the future to get to a place where theory and practice is indistinguishable.
I remember when I was first learning about rights, in whatever grade I was in, there were at least 10 rights listed in the Life Orientation (Life Skills) textbook. My teacher, at the time, basically drilled us to learn, study, memorise the basic human rights because we had to write class tests on them. It was taken a step further, each right is associated with a responsibility and I had to cram that too and match them appropriately. Talk about intense educators, I guess it was good for us to engage with this important topic but at the end of it all I should have been able to fill in something like this from memory:
Those are my best memories with relation to this day, what it means and what we continue to fight and strive for. The engagement back then was quite entry level but quite necessary although it did not feel like it. I wonder how other schools did it.
Let as always remember the importance of this day. No, it is not to cram your rights and be able to recite them for your teacher. It is that we have these rights by virtue of being born, of being human, and just simply existing and co-existing. These rights pave a way for us to live in harmony and peace by treating the next person with basic, deserved respect and dignity. It is important that there is a responsibility that comes along with each right, sort of the price to pay for having the right in the first place.
HAPPY HUMAN RIGHTS DAY EVERYBODY!!
Share with me your thoughts on this day and the meaning you have derived from it! Or even your views on the mentioned Ethics Side Note above! Thank you for reading! Cheers!