‘Not enough S. Africans know their rights’

As the country celebrates Human Rights Day, the HRC says only 10% have read the Bill of Rights.

FILE: People celebrate Human Rights Day in Mbekweni township near Paarl in the Western Cape, Thursday, 21 March 2013. President Jacob Zuma attended the Human Rights Day commemoration. Picture: GCIS/SAPA.

JOHANNESBURG - As the country commemorates the Sharpeville massacre on Human Rights Day, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) has expressed concern that not enough people are aware of what this means.

President Jacob Zuma is leading today's commemorations, addressing a gathering in Vereeniging in the Gauteng to honour those who died in the 1960 massacre.

Wounded people lie in the street in Sharpeville near Vereeniging where at least 180 black South Africans, most of them women and children, were injured and 69 killed. 21 March 1960. Picture: AFP.

The public holiday is meant as a time for reflection on the tragedy as well as a celebration of the rights enjoyed by all South Africans.

But the HRC's Kayum Ahmed said very few of the country's citizens were familiar with the contents of the Bill of Rights.

"A recent Foundation for Human Rights study that is going to be released later this year [found that] less than 10 percent of South Africans have read the Bill of Rights or had it read to them, and that's a very shocking statistic."

However, he says he's "cautiously optimistic" that this will improve.

"I think it is a call on people to actually get to grips with the Bill of Rights and what it contains and also, of course, the obligations that people have towards each other."

Ahmed said the South African Constitution is one of the most progressive in the world.