Human Rights Day in the times of COVID-19, xenophobic attacks, #FeesMustFall and Gender Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF)

The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR) commemorates Human Rights Day 2021 under the umbrella of COVID-19, xenophobic attacks, #FeesMustFall and Gender Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) this year. This day is historically linked with 21 March 1960, and the events at Sharpeville. On that day the apartheid police murdered 69 people, wounding 180 others by firing on a peaceful crowd that had gathered in protest against the unjust Pass laws. The violence of that day shocked the world and highlighted the brutal and oppressive nature of the illegitimate apartheid state. Since 1994 the 21st of March has been marked as a key moment in the struggle against unfair discrimination and remains a day for ordinary people to rise in unison to proclaim their hard-fought rights.

COVID-19 has fundamentally affected the lives of many South Africans and highlighted the different realities that people experience, while further entrenching systemic inequality. COVID-19 also showed the extent of the blatant corruption that continued regardless of the health crisis, loss and death. Despite numerous high-profile incidents, it appears that Government has done little to hold people accountable or prosecute the perpetrators. The FHR calls upon government to take corruption seriously and to ensure that guilty parties are held publicly and criminally accountable and barred from any further business dealings with the State.

On the 8th of March we observed International Women’s Day – but what does a single day of recognition really mean for women across the world who experience violence on a daily basis? COVID-19 made the situation even worse for many women who were locked in their homes with their abusers, prevented by COVID-19 restrictions from leaving to seek shelter or assistance. The increase of GBVF during the lockdown has shown how the COVID-19 pandemic is another example of women and girls being forced to live in fear, even in their homes. The FHR calls on government to stand with women and girls and address the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and GBVF by focusing additional attention on the needs of vulnerable groups.

The country again witnessed xenophobic attacks against non-nationals this year in Durban. Those who are responsible for the attacks against their fellow Africans were quick to blame the contestation for scarce resources, South Africa’s violent past, or to claim that foreigners took job opportunities away from local South Africans, and to allege that foreign nationals accept lower wages and refuse to participate in the struggle for better wages and working conditions. Regardless of any of these false claims, violence is never acceptable and FHR condemns any attacks on non-nationals; as the preamble to the Constitution makes clear “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations”. The rights to freedom, equality, dignity and non-discrimination belong to all people in South Africa, regardless of their citizenship.

In the last week or so students have been protesting against the unaffordability of accessing higher education as part of #FeesMustFall protests, by raising awareness of students who are do not qualify for a scholarship but also are too poor to afford tertiary education . The legitimate protest was met with disproportionate use of force by the police service, resulting in the brutal death of an innocent passer by killed in Braamfontein. The issue of the disproportionate use of force by the police service remains a pressing concern and police be held accountable. The importance of accessible education is also found in section 29 of the Constitution where “everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education; and to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.  These rights place a duty on the state to respect an individual’s right to education”. However, the reality is that only a few will be able to fully enjoy this right in their life time due to the gross inequalities imposed on black people during colonialism and apartheid.

Media inquiries:

Lindiwe Sibiya – 082 634 7154    



Latest News

"“Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts.”

Barbara Gittings, American activist for LGBT equality