Reflecting on 30 years of democracy at the 6th Human Rights Festival


If diamonds are forever as they say, then for us, the memories of the many brave South Africans who have sacrificed their own lives for our freedom will be measured throughout eternity. As we convened for the 6th edition of the Human Rights Festival, a medley of emotions filled the atmosphere as young South Africans came out in their numbers to express their appreciation of living in a democratic country whilst being reminiscent of the struggles and the sacrifices of the youth that lived through the oppressive regime before 1994.


The Human Rights Festival is an annual initiative that commemorates our country’s struggle for freedom and celebrates democracy through activism, art and dialogue. The event is held on the 21st of March to also pay tribute to the 69 people slain by the apartheid regime in 1960 at Sharpeville for a peaceful protest against racial profiling in the form of identification passbooks. 64 years later, their heroic stance gave birth to a generation of free South Africans who came together at the Constitutional Hill, a significant venue endowed with pre-democratic heritage, to celebrate the freedom to become whatever and whoever they want to become. This year’s edition of the festival is aligned with the 30th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy, serving as an occasion to rekindle the principles of our constitution, emphasizing a commitment to equality, dignity, freedom, and justice for all.


As part of the four-day programme, a disruptive panel discussion on “The youth’s experience of democracy and the need to vote” was held at the Constitution Hill Town Hall on the morning of the 21st of March 2024. The panel boasted some of the brightest and sharpest young minds that our country has to offer with Dr. Sizwe Mpofu Walsh serving as the moderator. Panelists included Sociologist and Director at the Rivonia Circle, Tessa Dooms; musical theatre performer and Global South Africans Network member, Eli Zaelo; Director of the Youth Walk for Change, Gcina Sawuka and the General Manager of the Civic and Democracy Education Research and Knowledge Management (CDERKM), Moagisi Sibanda.


As expected, the young people in attendance left no stone unturned when engaging on the topic that was at hand with the panelists. They raised robust questions and didn’t hesitate to contribute possible solutions to what they deem as challenges in and of this current democratic dispensation. The overall takeout was that the youth of today are not docile to issues concerning their constitutional rights that are related to the freedom of expression, the right to education and the right to equality. When asked about what democracy means on a day-to-day basis, Tessa Dooms highlighted that it means that the people will govern themselves. She went on further to say that we as the people of South Africa must have a say in how we live our lives, how we run our families and how we run our communities. While this is true, the Panel moderator, Dr. Sizwe Mpofu Walsh cited on the other hand that as citizens, we have a duty to inform ourselves by reading widely from different perspectives to understand what is happening in our country so as to combine that with our personal experiences and voice them out in the democratic channels available to us as this free generation.


Although the youth’s experience of democracy is broad, they share the same eagerness to vote and make their voices heard at the upcoming general elections taking place on the 29th of May 2024. This is validated by the highest ever, new voter registrations since democracy, with 78% of this lot made up of young South Africans according to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). This point was further elaborated by one of the Panelists, Moagisi Sibanda when she emphasized the importance of young people in our democracy and how they shouldn’t be left out of the conversation as they make up the majority of our country’s population.


This Human Rights Month, remember that our right to democracy goes hand in hand with the responsibility of upholding basic human rights of our fellow citizens. The time is now, #SeizeThePower and #StandUp4HumanRights through the spirit of Ubuntu.