This year Human Rights Day fell on the same day as Good Friday, 21 march 2008. And that presented us with a dilemma in South Africa.
Everyone knows about Good Friday, the day that Christ was crucified. I am not sure why it is a good Friday, Easter Monday is the good day, but the Friday was an excruciating day of pain and suffering. At any rate that is another consideration and not pertinent to the dilemma that Good Friday presented in falling on the same day as Human Rights Day this year.
In South Africa, 21 March is a commemoration of the Sharpeville massacre that took place on 21 March 1960 when men, women and children gathered outside the Sharpeville Police Station to demonstrate against having to carry passes. The police opened fire on the crowd, killing 69 and wounding 180. As a result, the ANC and PAC were banned, a State of Emergency was declared and the struggle took on a new aspect: it moved from protest to resistance - Umkonto we Sizwe was born and sanctions against South Africa came into effect.
The day used to be called Sharpeville Day, then it was changed to Human Rights Day. Now there are voices calling for a return to Sharpeville Day but that again is another consideration, a PAC consideration, a demand for acknowledgment of the PAC role in the struggle.
What we are considering here is why the coincidence of Good Friday and Human Rights Day presented a problem. In the TV news the reportage was divided between people at Sharpeville being shot in the back while running away from police and the Pope washing the feet of his cardinals. No one sought a connection between the crucifixion of Christ and the crucifixion of African people and the resurrections that followed these events to resolve the dilemma. The significance of the events was really irrelevant and they remained isolated from one another.
It suited the protesters, the workers, to keep them separate. To them it meant the loss of a public holiday. That they could not tolerate. Not because they wanted more time off work; that was neither here nor there. Public holidays are valuable because they mean double pay. The workers then demanded double, double pay, as this was a double holiday. They took their complaint to the highest office in the land and after mulling over it the President declared that May 2 would be made another public holiday to compensate the workers for the loss of revenue.
Both Jesus and the Sharpeville dead and wounded became purely monetary considerations.
26 March 2008