Culture, Identity

Remembering The 21st of March

For the sake of peace among men, so that no one could say to another, “My father was greater than your father” … to proclaim the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He, for when a human being strikes many coins from one mould, they all resemble one another, but the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, fashioned every man in the stamp of the first man, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5)
Racism isn’t always easy to spot. But on one day in 1960 in South Africa, racism showed its ugliest of heads in the form of the Sharpeville Massacre.
In South Africa of the 1950s, “pass laws” were the law of the land, stating, among other things:

Pass laws required that Africans had to carry identity documents with them at all times. These books had to contain stamps providing official proof that that the person in question had permission to be in a town at that time. Initially only men were forced to carry these books, but soon law also compelled women to carry the dreaded documents.
According to Section 10 (1a-d) of the 1954 Native Urban Areas Act Africans could only stay in an urban area for more than 12 hours if they:
a) Had been born there and had lived there ever since.
b) Had worked there for ten years under one employer, or had lived there for 15 years without breaking any law (including pass laws)
c) Were the child or wife of a man permitted to live in the urban area on the conditions of (a) or (b) mentioned above.
d) Signed a contract to migrate from a rural reserve to a specific job for a limited period of time in an urban area after which they must return home.

Contract workers’ families were not allowed to join them in an urban area.
On March 21, 1960, members of the Pan Africanist Congress, beating out their brethren at the African National Congress by 10 days, scheduled a protest against the racist pass laws. Their peaceful protest — which was to have as its climax handing the passes in in a show of defiance — was met by South African police opening fire on approximately 300 demonstrators and killing 69 of them. The day would, almost 35 years later, be declared the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by the United Nations, and Human Rights Day in South Africa.
This year’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has as its theme “Racism and Discrimination – Obstacles to Development” according to the press release, and the UN ends its release with an exhortation:

The United Nations, through its lawmaking, human rights monitoring and awareness-raising roles, has an important part to play in the fight against racial discrimination. But each and every one of us must also make a stand: we must disavow discriminatory and intolerant acts in our personal lives and speak out forcefully against them in the public sphere.
Let us mark this International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by recommitting ourselves to the equality of all human beings, and by resolving to make every effort to realize this simple, yet powerful, ideal.


4 thoughts on “Remembering The 21st of March

  1. Amit, please forward us a link about the black South Africans that blew themselves up and routinely killed white South Africans, and the highjackings and kidnappings they committed for their cause, and their calls to drive the whites into the sea. I need to understand the clear comparison with Israeli Apartheid.

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