Born from the terrible 1960 Sharpeville massacre and the struggle against apartheid, Human Rights Day is both a celebration of the rights of all citizens and a solemn remembrance of the suffering and sacrifice necessary to secure them. Today, the South African Bill of Rights ensures the right to human dignity, equality and freedom for all its citizens.

Though it was followed by years of protracted conflict, the Sharpeville massacre was a turning point in the long and difficult battle for human rights in South Africa. In 1986, the Pass laws were ultimately repealed as part of an effort to roll back some of apartheid’s most oppressive laws. The long struggle begun in Sharpeville was finally resolved on April 27, 1994, with the democratic election of President Nelson Mandela.

Nowadays teachers face immense challenges that infringe upon the growth and development of their profession. Their rights are often violated and they seldom enjoy the protection that they deserve. Schools are becoming more violent and dangerous for both teachers and learners. The recent spate of stabbings and attacks at learning institutions across the country is cause for major concern.

Teachers, just like other professionals, deserve to be given respect by their employers and the society at large. Unacceptable behaviour in schools undoubtedly constitutes an infringement of the constitutional rights of educators and learners alike.

Mariëtte Reyneke, Senior Lecturer, Law of Procedure and Law of Evidence, Faculty of Law, University of the Free State, argues that youth violence, crimes committed by juveniles, antisocial behaviour in schools and a decline in the appreciation of acceptable values are a worldwide phenomenon. She further argues that lack of discipline and respect in education is an increasing problem throughout the world. Educators and learners are now often the victims of intimidation, harassment, and verbal and physical assaults by educators, learners, parents or public officials of the Department of Education. Recent national and international reports on school-based violence paint a gloomy picture. Learners and educators are the transgressors with regard to, and the victims of, this unacceptable behaviour.

NAPTOSA calls on all citizens of South Africa to hold hands to restore the dignity and rights of teachers and learners. Teaching and learning must take place in safe environments.