International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
March 21st, 2021
International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is recognized each year on March 21st. It was established six years after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 that captured attention worldwide. Sharpeville, an all-black suburb fifty miles south of Johannesburg, South Africa was untouched by anti-apartheid demonstrations that occurred in surrounding towns in the 1950s. By 1960, anti-apartheid activism reached the town and the leader of the anti-apartheid Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), Robert Sobukwe, prearranged the town’s first anti-apartheid protest. In order for the protest to run smooth and violent-free, Sobukwe wrote a letter to the Sharpeville police commissioner announcing the upcoming peaceful protest. On March 21st around 7,000 Africans joined in front of the Sharpeville police station to peacefully protest against the restrictive pass laws. As crowds gathered, nearly 300 police officers arrived to stop the peaceful protest from continuing and as police attempted to diffuse the crowd, a police officer was knocked over and many in the crowd rushed over to see what had happened. Witnesses close to police claimed that items such as stones were thrown into the crowd and out of fear and panic, officers opened fire into the crowd. Other witnesses claimed there was no reason to open fire and that the police did not fire a warning shot into the crowd before. As thousands of Africans tried to flee the area the police continued to fire shots into the crowd and killed a total of sixty-nine people, while another 186 were wounded with most being shot in the back. The Sharpeville massacre awakened the international community to the horrors of apartheid.
On March 30th the South African government declared a state of emergency which made any protest illegal. The protest ban remained in effect un August 31st, 1960. The South African government then created the Unlawful Organizations Act of 1960 which banned anti-apartheid groups such as the PAC and the African National Congress (ANC). In 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa and the apartheid system officially ended. President Mandela signed the nation’s first post-apartheid constitution act near the site of the deadly 1960 massacre. All these years later, the horror of that day is remembered, and its significance is marked every year on March 21st.
The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is a chance for people to promote equality for all backgrounds and cultures. Countries worldwide arrange different activities and events focused on the day and such activities include a webcast from the United Nations (UN) headquarters which features special appearances from UN leaders. Such events aim to help young people voice their opinions, find ways to fight against racism, and promote acceptance in their communities and in their lives.