Editor's note

South Africa celebrates Human Rights Day tomorrow. The public holiday honours the 69 people who died during the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960 when apartheid police opened fire on peaceful marchers protesting against the identity document, known as the dompas (dumb passbook), that black people were forced to carry. The events of the day reverberated around the world, exposing the brutality of the apartheid regime. The Sharpeville massacre was to become one of the key milestones in the struggle to end apartheid.

To mark the day we’re publishing a selection of some of the best read articles on human rights.

The first is a look at Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, who, as leader of the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania, led the march. He was jailed for organising the protests. A new book, Lie on your wounds, features 300 prison letters Sobukwe wrote from prison. Edited by Derek Hook, it honours the memory of an inspirational leader whose contribution to the liberation of South Africa has often been neglected.

Looking at how the country has fared over the past 25 years in delivering basic social and economic rights, Laetitia Rispel writes that access to healthcare is marred by huge disparities between urban and rural areas; between public and private health sectors and between primary health care and hospital care. She argues that the country’s universal health care plan falls short of fixing the ailing system. For his part, Magnus Killander looks at how children are being denied the right to both a proper education and decent healthcare.

On the economic front, Danny Bradlow takes a hard look at steps being taken by President Cyril Ramaphosa to fix the country’s ailing economy, asking if they will benefit poor people, or simply deepen inequality in the country while Sonwabile Mnwana examines what the victory of a community in a bitter mining dispute means.

Expanding the human rights lens beyond South Africa, James Hamill laments the country’s poor record of defending human rights globally, particularly in Africa, and ponders what role it should play during its third term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. For his part Henning Melber takes a broad look at how the defense of human rights has progressed over the past 70 years.

Thabo Leshilo

Politics + Society Editor

Top Story

Between 1963 and 1969 Robert Sobukwe spent six years of near-complete solitary confinement on Robben Island. Book cover

Letters reveal Africanist hero Robert Sobukwe’s moral courage, and pain

Derek Hook, Duquesne University

A collection of prison letters provides a peek into the suffering of South African liberation hero, Robert Sobukwe.

Health and Education

South Africa’s universal health care plan falls short of fixing an ailing system

Laetitia Rispel, University of the Witwatersrand

The bill to provide universal health care in South Africa is not the silver bullet for the challenges in the health sector.

South Africa is failing the rights of children to education and health

Magnus Killander, University of Pretoria

South Africa is violating its own Constitution, and international obligations when it comes to undocumented children.

Economic rights

South Africa is set on fixing its economy. But will poor people benefit?

Danny Bradlow, University of Pretoria

Initiatives to boost South Africa’s economy could reinforce structural weaknesses without addressing the high levels of inequality.

Why South African community’s win against mining company matters

Sonwabile Mnwana, University of Fort Hare

Villagers from a community in South Africa's Eastern Cape fought to be consulted and for the power to consent to mining their land.

Global perspective

South Africa returns to UN Security Council: here’s the role it should play

James Hamill, University of Leicester

President Cyril Ramaphosa has committed South Africa to prioritising human rights and democracy. But, there's little evidence of this.

Human rights 70 years on: important victories as well as major misses

Henning Melber, University of Pretoria

Human Rights Day might not be a reason for celebrations. But it's a useful reminder of what's been achieved over 70 years.


Would you like to republish any of these articles?

It’s free to republish, here are the guidelines. Contact us on africa-republish@theconversation.com in case you need assistance.