Background and history

How did the International Weeks against Racism come about?

Sharpeville, South Africa: On the morning of 21 March 1960, between 5,000 and 7,000 people gathered at various locations in the small town 50 km south of Johannesburg. They responded to a call by the Pan African Congress (PAC), which had announced a five-day non-violent and peaceful protest.

People demonstrated against the apartheid regime’s passport laws.

These regulated the “right of residence” of black South Africans.

The number of black people outside the “homelands” was thus to be kept to a minimum, but their labour was to remain available. The demonstrators set off in the direction of the police station in the centre of Sharpeville. The police kept the peaceful demonstrators at bay with low-flying aeroplanes and tear gas. The situation finally escalated shortly after 1pm, when the police fired into the crowd, allegedly in response to stone-throwers. The people fled in panic, the police continued to shoot. 69 people were killed, including eight women and ten children. Many – the figures vary from 180 to over 300 people – were injured, some of them seriously.

Six years later, in 1966, the United Nations proclaimed 21 March the “International Day to Overcome Racial Discrimination” to commemorate the Sharpeville massacre. In 1979, this day of remembrance was supplemented by an invitation from the United Nations to its member states to organise an annual week of action in solidarity with those affected by racism and their allies.

On 10 December 1996, International Human Rights Day, Nelson Mandela finally signed South Africa’s new democratic constitution into law in Sharpeville. 21 March is celebrated in South Africa as South African Human Rights Day.

Since 1994, the Intercultural Council has coordinated the initiatives and activities surrounding 21 March in Germany. In 2008, the campaign period was extended to two weeks due to the large number of events and increasing participation. In 2014, the Intercultural Council established the non-profit foundation for the International Weeks against Racism in order to secure this important work in the long term. Since January 2016, the project’s operational work has been organised by the Foundation for the International Weeks against Racism.

What is happening around us right now?

The electoral success of right-wing populist parties, current studies and investigations (e.g. racist discrimination in access to housing), the normalisation of violence against refugees and hate speech in social media as well as daily personal experiences show how manifest racist thought structures are, how racism affects all areas of German society and how low the inhibition threshold is for this to lead to the use of violence.

It is therefore all the more important to recognise the underlying social concepts and mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion, to deal with (one’s own) patterns of thought and action and to embark together on a path critical of racism in order to change the internalised patterns of thought and socially entrenched structures of inequality.

The International Weeks against Racism, their cooperation partners and stakeholders can provide a variety of suggestions, impulses and mutual support for this difficult – but unavoidable – task.

The motto for the campaign weeks is also: 100% human dignity – together against racism.

Who are we and what do we want to do in Lüneburg?

On the initiative of Nurka Casanova, people in Lüneburg also came together for the first time in 2015 to prepare events for the International Weeks against Racism 2016. At an initial public meeting, ideas for the approach to planning the action weeks were collected on the basis of social experience. An essential basic idea was the binding and continuous cooperation of an open planning group. We are the planning group for the “Lüneburg Weeks against Racism – For an Open Society” that emerged in 2016.