– March 21st 2009 –
Background to Anti-Racism Day
In 1760, a regulation was passed in the the Cape Colony of South Africa (which is now known as Western South Africa). This regulation permitted slaves to move between town and country as long as they presented the pass to the relevant authorities. The pass was authorised and signed by the slave’s owner which allowed, albeit contrained, movement throughout the colony. In 1814, the British government purchased the colony from the Dutch settlers and the system of ‘passes’ remained in force for colureds (i.e, a designation of non-whites other than persons of negroid ethnicity) and blacks. In 1809, pass laws had begun to permeate the various regions in South Africa, where they were frequently amended to suit the needs of the local white population. By 1923, they were designed to regulate movement of black Africans in the growing urban areas throughout South Africa.
As part of the policy of apartheid (meaning ‘segregation’ in Afrikaans), which was a system of legalized racial segregation enforced by the National Party (NP) South African government between 1948 and 1994, designated territory was set aside for black inhabitants, called bantustan or homeland. The black South Africans were forced to carry passbooks called “dom pas”, meaning stupid pass, at all times, under pain of sanction. This documentation proved they were authorised to live or move in “White” South Africa”. These laws caused outrage amongst the non white communities and consequently under the orchestration of the African National Congress ( ANC), an organised system of grievance resolution was initiated called the Defiance Campaign to oppose the ‘pass laws’.
In a sign of peaceful opposition to the ‘pass laws’, on 21 March 1960, in the township of Sharpeville, South Africa, protesters gathered to demonstrate against the imposition of the oppressive regulations. In retaliation the police used excessive force to combat the peaceful congregation and opened fire killing 69 innocent protesters. The global community were appalled and consequently the United Nations General Assembly subsequently declared that day, March 21st, International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This was an attempt to remind the world of the Sharpeville massacre but also top act as a vehicle to combat racism and discrimination wherever they might exist.
The day is now a symbol of the fight against ignorance and racism and provides a platform to both publicly and privately denounce discrimination along racial lines.