March 21st is both a celebration of how far South Africa has come, as well as an occasion of sombre remembrance of those who gave their lives so that we can be free. We know it as Human Rights Day, but it is also the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, World Down’s Syndrome Day, which advocates the rights and inclusion of those with Down’s Syndrome, and World Poetry Day.
As disparate as they may all seem, International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was borne out of the horror of the Sharpeville Massacre, as the world remembered the atrocity that took place in 1960 when peaceful protesters who were opposed to having their freedom of movement curtailed by having to carry a pass, were shot down. Sixty nine people were killed and 180 more injured. Today, South Africa commemorates Human Rights Day.
There are still global challenges of inclusion and human rights, as epitomised by World Down’s Syndrome Day, but it is up to each of us to see every person as a valuable, human life regardless of their being different from us.
Since 1994, the University of Pretoria has made significant advances in promoting dialogue and change. Today, we are one of the most diverse universities in South Africa with an on-going focus on inclusion. As a university community, we hold ourselves to high standards in terms of upholding human rights and respecting the fundamental human dignity of all persons. Since the advent of its democracy, South Africa has been lauded for a constitution, which guarantees human rights and liberty, and the University of Pretoria continues to be proud that its academics were at the forefront of writing the constitution. UP academics wrote a legacy for a united future out of the torn fragments of a ruptured society.
Poetry embodies the human condition. The poet, Mahmoud Darwish, notes the often fleeting nature of history when he says in Mural, “… history takes a look at them [its victims and heroes] and passes by …”, and it becomes increasingly obvious to us that in a rapidly changing world, we need to not only remember and commemorate the sacrifices of the past, but to make each day, every day, count; to make today matter to build a future of tolerance, respect and a culture of care for all humanity.
- Department of University Relations