South Africa sets aside a national public holiday every year specially to mark human rights. It commemorates the tragedy of Sharpeville where, on 21 March 1960, police opened fire on peaceful protesters, leaving at least 69 people dead and 180 injured. The hated “pass laws” against which they were protesting forced every black person in SA to carry documents indicating the area where they were allowed to work or live. If you were found outside this area, you would be arrested and charged.
SA’s ex-president, Jacob Zuma, already in hot water with pending corruption charges and a court order that he must personally pay some of his massive legal costs, has again become the target of serious criticism from SA’s Constitutional Court. This time the country’s highest court was considering an application to set aside Zuma’s decision backing the dissolution of the SADC Tribunal, a crucial regional rights forum, based in Windhoek, Namibia. The application also asked that his agreement to a “protocol” establishing an effectively toothless body, barred from considering petitions from individuals, be declared invalid. The court said Zuma had the duty to uphold rights, not abandon them, as he had done in this case, and ordered that his presidential ratification of the “protocol” be withdrawn.