Office hours of the Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre

During the National lockdown, the Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre will be opened Monday – Friday, 8h00 till 16h30. For assistance, please contact munsamyt@ukzn.ac.za.

Human Rights Day, 21 March

Human Rights Day in South Africa is historically linked with 21 March 1960, and the events of Sharpeville. On that day, 69 people died and 180 were wounded when police fired on a peaceful crowd that had gathered in protest against the Pass laws. This day marked an affirmation by ordinary people, rising in unison to proclaim their rights. It became an iconic date in our country’s history that today we commemorate as Human Rights Day as a reminder of our rights and the cost paid for our treasured human rights.


In 1948 the National Party came to power in South Africa and began to formalise segregation in a succession of laws that gave the government control over the movement of black people in urban areas. The Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952 extended Government control over the movement of Africans to urban areas and abolished the use of the Pass Book (a document which Africans were required to carry on them to ‘prove’ that they were allowed to enter a ‘white area’) in favour of a reference book which had to be carried at all times by all Africans. Failure to produce the reference book on demand by the police, was a punishable offence.

The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) proposed an anti-pass campaign to start on 21 March 1960. All African men were to take part in the campaign without their passes and present themselves for arrest.
Campaigners gathered at police stations in townships near Johannesburg where they were dispersed by police. At the Sharpeville police station a scuffle broke out. Part of a wire fence was trampled, allowing the crowd to move forward. The police opened fire, apparently without having been given a prior order to do so. Sixty-nine people were killed and 180 wounded.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) whose the aim is to promote respect for human rights, promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights, and to monitor and assess the observance of human rights in South Africa was launched on 21 March 1996, 35 years after the Sharpeville massacre.




Celebration 162 years arrival Indian Indentured Labour in Natal 1860-1911

Calcutta and Madras became the centres for the World’s trade in indentured Labour in the nineteenth century and recruiters from British and European colonies set up their offices and vied with each other to despatch their orders. The first recorded reference to the Natal Colonists demand for indentured Indian labour is traced to a report in the Durban Observer, 17 October 1851, No. 9 of a meeting of leading citizens held at Durban Government School Hall. Among those present were Morewood, William Campbell, J.C. Byrne and Dr. Johnstone. After a spirited debate the motion calling for the introduction of Indian labour was passed.

The ship, SS Truro, departed from Madras on October 12, 1860, with 342 passengers aboard and arrived in Durban on November 16, and was the first ship to bring Indian indentured labourers to Natal from India.

The ship, SS Truro, departed from Madras on October 12, 1860, with 342 passengers aboard and arrived in Durban on November 16, and was the first ship to bring Indian indentured labourers to Natal from India.

On board the ship, perhaps for the first time in their lives, Indians of different castes and different language groups discovered each other. Initially they found it difficult to mix socially, especially at meal times. For example, in the Muslim diet the meat had to be ‘halaal’, greater difficulties arose among the Hindus, among whom were vegetarians who were members of different castes who refused to cat together for ‘fear of losing their caste.’

The period 1860 to 1911 is thus an important and integral part of the overall history of South Africa. It was during this turbulent period when more than 150 000 indentured labourers were imported from India to Natal.

The Natal Mercury on November 22, 1860, reported on the arrival of the ship with the opening line: “On Friday afternoon last, the 16th instant, the large barque Truro made the anchorage and signalled the fact of her having a large number of Coolies on board.