On March 21, 1960, the Sharpeville Massacre occurred in the township of Sharpeville, South Africa. It was the incident that up to that point resulted in the deaths of the largest number of South Africans in a protest against apartheid. It also came to symbolize the struggle against apartheid.
Sharpeville is a black suburb outside of Vereeniging (about fifty miles south of Johannesburg). Throughout the 1950s, it was a community that was unaffected by anti-apartheid demonstrations that occurred in surrounding towns. However, by 1960, anti-apartheid activism reached the town.
Robert Sobukwe, a leader in the anti-apartheid Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) organized the town’s first anti-apartheid protest in March 1960. As a means of reducing the possibility of violence, he wrote a letter to the Sharpeville police commissioner announcing the upcoming protest and emphasizing that its participants would be non-violent.
On the day of the protest, March 21, an estimated 7,000 Africans gathered in front of the Sharpeville police station to protest against the restrictive pass laws. Nearly 300 police officers arrived to put an end to the peaceful protest. As they attempted to disperse the crowd, a police officer was knocked down and many in the crowd began to move forward to see what had happened.
The witnesses of the Police claimed that stones were thrown, and in a panicked and rash reaction, the officers opened fire into the crowd. Other witnesses claimed the police did not fire a warning shot above the crowd as there was no order to open fire. The police continued to shoot into the crowd as the thousands of Africans tried to flee the violent scene. Sixty-nine Africans were killed, also 186 were wounded with most of them shot in the back.
The Sharpeville Massacre awakened the international community to the horrors of apartheid in South Africa. Hundreds of mass protests by black South Africans were sparked by the massacre, many of which were ruthlessly and violently crushed by the South African police and military.
The South African government declared a state of emergency on March 30, which made any protest illegal. Up till August 31, 1960, the ban remained in effect. During the five months of the ban, about 25,000 people were arrested throughout the nation. The South African government then created the Unlawful Organizations Act of 1960 which banned anti-apartheid groups such as the Pan Africanist Congress and the African National Congress.
The repressive measures of the South African government in response to the Sharpeville Massacre, however, expanded and intensified the opposition to apartheid, ushering in three decades of resistance and protest in the country and increasing condemnation by world leaders. With the election of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa in 1994, the apartheid system ended. In a symbolic move, in 1994, Mandela signed South Africa’s first post-apartheid constitution near the site of the 1960 massacre.
The maltreatment of Black Africans in their own land, South-Africa, has not stopped to this day. Even though Mandela paid the ultimate sacrifice in prison, and came out to lead his country, there are those who still believe that native South Africans are still being colonized. This is because they don’t have rights over their lands and resources.
This chapter of African history goes a long way to show us who the aggressor is in this world. The Caucasians do not have any right to lay claim to South African resources and land, but they have been doing just that. The EFF, led by Julius Malema is doing its best to take their lands from the white people, but this task has proven difficult, as the entire white world seems hell-bent on the continued occupation of South Africa.
Will South Africa one day be free of white occupation and domination? That is a question we leave to the guts and consciences of the native South African people.
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