The Importance of Human Rights Day to Law Students

Importance of Human Rights Day to UKZN Law Students
From left: Mr Kwanele Mazibuko, Ms Owethu Mthethwa and Mr Mvelo Zuma.

The study of Law requires critical thinking and profound analysis skills coupled with the tendency of always questioning things beyond a one-dimensional perspective, which is normally the case with people in general. It demands discipline, sound moral projection and the deeper understanding of everyday choices in connection to their subsequent consequences. It is for such a reason and understanding that I found myself opting to further my education in Law.

However, I feel like the decision was already precedented by numerous habits which I had consciously and unconsciously adopted in my early years. Habits such as advocating against the violation of human rights and more particularly, women and children’s rights. Campaigns protesting against the violations of these rights and interchangeably, that of human rights, got my full attention simply because of my firm belief that nobody should be subjected to inhumane treatment for whatever reason and as I believe we are all entitled to a just and equitable environment.

The commemoration of Human Rights Day to me signifies the importance of respecting these rights and acting in prescription with the Bill of Rights as to afford and affirm those around us of the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom, as prescribed in the Bill of Rights.

It is important for the youth in South Africa to not forget Human Rights Day as it is a bittersweet reminder of all that it took for our country’s emancipation from its colonial powers and claim its freedom and democracy. The 21st of March serves as a reassurance to our people of the ideals and values of democracy, deeply embedded in Chapter 2 of the Constitution and moreover, forms an integral part of history to enable different generations to reflect on our country’s journey to democracy.

UKZN, in particular, offers LLB students various programmes which are aimed at advocating for human rights and instilling the tendency of advocating for human rights amongst its students. I believe this is achieved, amongst other things, through the hosting of webinars by the School’s leadership and by allowing various societies within the University community such as the Black Lawyers Association Student Chapter, Howard College campus (BLASC HC) to find innovative ways of shining light on Human Rights Day, such as the heart of this essay. The inclusion of Human Rights as an independent module for LLB students also offers an extensive opportunity to learn in-depth about the significance of these rights and the subsequent advocacy for them.

In conclusion, I extend an invite to all to advocate for Human rights and to ensure that they understand not only what the rights entitle them to, but to also ensure that they are most clear with the attached responsibilities to each human right and hope that with that achievement, we can begin to see a country with less crimes against human rights as these directly and most seriously pose a threat against humanity and insult the principle of Ubuntu. A luta continua, vitória é certa!

Mr Kwanele Mazibuko is a second-year LLB student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

An Opinion Piece by Ms Owethu Mthethwa:

‘To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.’ – Nelson Mandela

I chose to pursue Law because I am eager about protecting and serving the people of South Africa by upholding the law and being a vessel through which the hopes and aspirations of our Constitution can be executed.

The mere fact that my ascendants were treated and seen as less than human and had their dignity stripped is appalling. I am nothing without my rights. I cannot imagine a life where I cannot practise my religion, where I cannot express my views, where I cannot move or reside where my heart pleases, where education is a luxury, where I cannot use my mother-tongue, and most importantly, a life where my life is not valued. 

Pursuing my LLB degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal has contributed a lot to my understanding of history and the importance of human rights. I am currently doing Human Rights as a module and to say that I am staggered would be an understatement. Actually, learning how life was before human rights, how human rights were recognised and how they are protected today is intriguing. All that I have been taught by my lecturers at UKZN just highlights further what I know: advocating for the voiceless is my calling.

Human rights are the fundamental rights applicable to every human being, anywhere. In South Africa, these various rights are ingrained in Chapter 2 of the Constitution of 1996, namely, the Bill of Rights. A lot happened in order for us as a country to get to a point where human rights are recognised, applied and ingrained in the most sovereign piece of law. Hence, Human Rights Day is one of the most respected days in South Africa.

To me, Human Rights Day is not just a day to reminisce and cry over the past, but also a day to commemorate and pay tribute to the lives that were lost in order for us to enjoy the fruits of a democratic and equal country.

On the 21st of March 1960, thousands of Black South Africans gathered at Sharpeville, unarmed, to protest against the Pass Laws and instead of being listened to and respected, were gunned down. Sixty-nine people shot and killed, and 180 injured in the quest for the freedom and equality we have today. March 21 was a turning point: it was a moment of realisation in our country and one of the biggest signs that change needed to happen!

So, 21 March is not just a holiday, it is a day where South Africa falls on its knees to pay homage to those that lost their lives fighting for a fairer, more equal country. Today’s youth should appreciate this day as it shows how much our ancestors fought and how far South Africa has come as a country. It also reminds us to respect and treasure our, and everyone else’s human rights for they did not come easily.

Sixty-three years ago, 69 people died for human rights. Let us pay tribute! 

*Ms Owethu Mthethwa is a second-year LLB Student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

An Opinion Piece by Mr Mvelo Zuma:

To most, choosing Law may be about making arguments in court and wearing judicial gowns and robes. I, however, chose to do Law because it is something I am passionate about; it’s what I dreamt of since childhood. I fully commit to dedicate myself to this noble profession no matter the challenges I may encounter.

The importance of human rights also shaped my decision to study Law. It is in our best interest to protect and advocate for human rights at all times. I vehemently submit that before you devote yourself to something, it is a mandate to fundamentally know its philosophy and findings.

The Constitution has given every individual equal rights. However, responsibilities come with these rights. The lives lost during the apartheid struggle shall not be in vain – this is why we have ‘International Human Rights Day’ on 10 December every year during which our late former president Nelson Mandela signed the final draft of the constitution into law at Sharpeville, Vereeniging.

It is vital for the youth to not forget Human Rights Day as it consists of a symbolic meaning; a meaning that resulted in bloodshed and on 10 December, the lives of those who took part in the struggle must be celebrated and remembered.

The freedom we have today gives us access to resources we need to better ourselves. Section 27 (1)(a) of the Constitution outlines our rights, including the rights to health and reproductive care services; food and water, etc. These rights must be preserved and the youth must understand them well.

It pains me that many citizens’ rights continue to be trampled upon through rape, GBV, and classism to mention a few. We are the best versions of ourselves uma sibambisana (if we stand together).

The LLB offered at UKZN betters one to fulfil the right scales to advocate. This is a university that Inspires Greatness, it is therefore in our best interests to guard and teach human rights tenaciously. We are the generation that will conquer!

*Mr Mvelo Zuma is a first-year LLB student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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