Sixty years ago to this day, South African police opened fire on a peaceful demonstration against apartheid, killing 69 people and imprisoning thousands more in the ensuing weeks. The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination commemorates this dreadful occasion and is a reminder of the need for all nations to increase their efforts to completely eradicate all forms of racial inequality.

This year’s observance takes stock of the progress of the International Decade for People of African Descent which was declaredin 2013 in recognition of the marginalisation and discrimination that people of African descent continue to experience since the dismantlement of slave systems and colonialism.

Racial intolerance is also a stark reality in our rainbow nation and it has become more noticeable since the advent of social media. People who have never met regularly trade racially charged barbs and insults at will, fostering an environment that is wholly incompatible with our national ethos.

The spectre of COVID-19 has caused some uncertainty, but it also presents an opportunity for us all to pull together as a nation. Now, more than ever, we ought to demonstrate compassion and unity while rejecting bigotry and polarisation. These considerations can and should be carried with us throughout the year and into the impending general election.

Hatred and prejudice have no place in a society in which tolerance is a founding principle. As we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination let us use our platforms and voices to uphold the rights and dignity of our fellow countrymen.