Human Rights Day – we can’t celebrate until we learn to collaborate

Posted by Janice Scheckter on 23 March 2016 10:10 AM CAT

I write this blog on the eve of Human Rights Day. In accordance with the Bill of Rights, everyone has the right to life, equality and human dignity. Protected rights include a healthy environment, housing, health care, food, water and social security. For those wonderful friends living outside of South Africa who kindly read my ramblings here’s the quick history on why we mark this day.

‘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.’1

I am of course not a political analyst but here’s what I am – a passionate South African waiting for us to shine, a citizen who believes in tactical urbanism and a collaboration activist. Twenty-one years into our democracy we have failed to collaborate as a nation, and failed to secure those protected rights. We have failed dismally on human rights.

Those of us with means, live behind our high walls with boosted security measures and of course our politicians, have shrouded themselves in an armour of security that vacuum packs them far from South African society. I understand their reasoning. I would probably do the same if 21 years into our democracy I as a politician continued to be so dismissive of those vulnerable in our society. I would hide myself in my castle surrounded by a security moat while millions not only desire missing dignity, but feel the painful absence of a healthy environment, housing, health care, food, water and more.  

We cannot succeed without collaboration, as collaboration will result in ideas that will start to solve our problems. And we cannot collaborate from behind the castle moat. It’s going to take some tactical urbanism where citizens come together in their neighbourhoods to create new jobs around cleanliness and recycling, safer pedestrian walkaways maybe even concepts such as open urban gardens.

The précis above on the Sharpville massacre refers to ordinary people, but I believe that we can all be extraordinary people. Over the past couple of years the focus on cities and the ability of citizens to fix broken cities has become somewhat of an obsession at our company. We believe that every citizen is an expert in his or her city. Let’s harness that expertise.

Imagine if a neighbourhood was determined to get every single passing pedestrian safely onto a sidewalk. How absolutely incredible would that be? The fact that this is required by our city’s by-laws is incidental as it will not be implemented by the city custodians who are responsible. It is you and I who need to become tactical urbanists and make things happen. Our collaborative city mission may take months and years, but we’re up for the task – are you?

If you’re in Johannesburg and interested in joining us at Indigo New Media as tactical urbanists email me on

Janice Scheckter is on the verge of becoming a true tactical urbanist. MD and co-founder of Indigo New Media, she is ready to take up her collaborative arms.




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