The festival followed a hybrid model due to covid-19 restrictions.  

South Africa’s Constitution Hill successfully hosted its first hybrid human rights festival from Sunday, March 21 to Wednesday, March 31combining virtual events with face-to-face sessions. 

The festival commemorates the Sharpeville massacre that happened on March 21, 1960, a watershed day in South African history. The annual commemoration, which is usually open to the public at Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, the home of the Constitutional Court, was moved online to adhere to covid-19 restrictions and social distancing. “Under the circumstances the biggest loss is that the numbers were limited in terms of reach as not everyone has access to data,” explained Janine Muthusamy, the marketing and communication manager for Constitution Hill, about the turnout of the event. However, she adds that the digital statistics reports show that festival reached over 6 000 people, with over  330 000 interactions over the course of March which is known as human rights month. 

The annual human rights festival hosted by Constitutional Hill, followed a hybrid model this year. Photo: Courtesy Constitution Hill.

“The team at Constitution Hill are well versed in the curatorship of large events and were able to easily adapt to the new normal” said Muthusamy, referring to the logistics of running the festival under pandemic restrictions According to the Constitution Hill website, the festival aimed to create virtual spaces of cultural dialogue around human rights. Curated over 10-day, each day addressed a different human right issue. “This year we chose to focus on the dire impacts of covid-19 and lockdown from the perspective of human rights infringement and the new challenges being faced,” says Muthusamy. Issues like gender-based violence, children’s rights, migration and refugees, health crises and many more were discussed and debated by a panel of speakers consisting of organisations, activists and academics involved in such issues. 

Siya HlongwaSafe Zone @ Wits trainer, activist and director of BeTrue2me (a transgender support organisation) on LGBTQI rights, participated in the festival as a speaker on human rights issues facing the LBGTQI community. She spoke about the ways the LGBTQI community is overlooked and excluded in South Africa, highlighting that resources like shelters are difficult to access for members of the community. “We [LGBTQI community] seem to become a spare wheel that only becomes adopted for the purpose of political gain”, she comments. When asked what more could be done for the community beyond dialogues, Hlongwa said, “by forming committees and protests [and] through private and state funding” like scholarships. Safe Zones @ Wits is a programme that provides sensitisation training around marginalised communities to foster inclusivity in the university community, said Hlongwa. 

Videos of the festival events are available for viewing on the Constitution Hill Facebook page. “We will continue to host Constitution Hill’s education, creative and human rights programmes on digital platforms into the foreseeable future in order to reach more audiences locally and globally,” says Muthusamy.

FEATURED IMAGE: Constitution Hills moves its 10-day human rights festival online due to covid-19. Photo: Courtesy Constitution Hill.