Human Rights Day in South Africa
1     For most of its history, only their neighbors on the African continent knew the people of South Africa. Except for tribal disagreements, South African natives lived in peace for thousands of years. Then, in the 15th century, European explorers began arriving in South Africa. Since it was along a sailing route between Europe and Southeast Asia, South Africa was an important place to the Europeans.

2     For hundreds of years, the white Europeans did much to take power away from South Africa's native blacks. The whites took over South African governments and businesses. By the 20th century, whites in South Africa had made the native blacks into second-class citizens.

3     The laws and practices set up in South Africa favoring whites over blacks were called apartheid. Those who believed in apartheid believed that native blacks couldn't be trusted with anything. Was apartheid unfair? Certainly, it took rights and privileges away from people just because of the color of their skin. You would be correct if you called apartheid by another word--racism.

4     During apartheid, a law was passed called the "pass law." This law required all of South Africa's black citizens to carry a special identification card. Under the law, whites were not required to carry them. If a black person was caught on the street without one, he or she could be put in jail for a month.

5     On March 21, 1960, between 5,000 and 7,000 black South Africans gathered outside city government offices in Sharpeville, South Africa. They were there to ask to be arrested for not carrying their identification cards. This was done to protest the pass law. Police were sent to end the protest. The police fired their guns into the crowd, which sent people running. When the shooting stopped, 69 protesters were dead and at least another 180 were injured.

6     This massacre got worldwide attention. People from all over the world took notice of apartheid. World leaders began speaking out against South Africa's racist laws. This terrible tragedy began to change things in South Africa. With this new support, black leaders in South Africa pressed harder for racial equality. After more than 30 years of struggles, black South Africans finally won a voice in their government. In the early 1990s, apartheid gave way to a more balanced system of government and life in South Africa.

7     Today, South Africans celebrate Human Rights Day on March 21. On this day, they remember the massacre at Sharpeville. They also remember all the leaders and people who worked so hard to bring a better way of life to black South Africans.


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