21 March is human rights day in South Africa, a national holiday created after the end of white minority rule in 1994 to remind people of their rights and ensure that the kind of abuses perpetrated under the apartheid regime never happen again.

21 March marks the date in 1960 when police in the Sharpeville township near Johannesburg opened fire on a crowd protesting against the pass laws introduced by the apartheid government and requiring all Africans living and working in or around towns to carry an identity document. Sixty-nine people, including many women and children, were killed in the shooting and over 180 more were injured.

Several days later the government banned all black political organisations including the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), which had organised the protests. The event ushered in a long period of repression in South Africa involving massive human rights violations and abuse on all sides.

On 21 March 1996 the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) was launched to promote human rights and protect constitutional democracy in the country.