Thousands of student  protesters had gathered in Sharpeville, just south of Johannesburg, to protest at the use of the infamous passbooks, or "dompas", that every black South African was expected to carry and produce on demand.

The eyewitness accounts of the massacre cast significant doubt on the police version of events. One eyewitness reported, ‘There was no warning volley. When the shooting started it did not stop until there was no living thing in the huge compound in front of the police station. The police have claimed they were in desperate danger because the crowd was stoning them.

The Sharpeville Massacre. The police suppressed protests brutally. 67 people died, many were injured. Thousands were arrested.

The Sharpeville Massacre was a brutal event which shaped South African politics, both black and white for the next half a century. White police killed 69 black people and wounded 178 during a demonstration against segregation laws. On March 21, 1960, in a small town outside Johannesburg, thousands of people gathered to protest the detested pass laws that forced all black South Africans to carry a pass book, or dompas (dumb pass). The book was a tool of the apartheid regime, which controlled the movement of black South Africans.The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) planned a series of national protests against the pass laws in 1960. Black South Africans were asked to gather outside police stations around the country on March 21 and offer themselves up for arrest, for not carrying their pass books.At Langa Township in Cape Town, two people were killed and 49 injured when police opened fire. At Sharpeville, the police attempted to disperse the unarmed, peaceful protestors by flying jets low over the crowd. When this failed, they opened fire on the crowd.Sixty-nine people were killed and more than 300 were wounded. The police claimed they shot at the crowd when the protestors started to throw stones, but evidence shows that most people were shot in the back and that police continued to fire even when the crowd had turned to flee their bullets. More than 30 years after the Sharpeville Massacre, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that the police had deliberately fired on an unarmed crowd.On March 30, 1960, the apartheid government declared the country’s first state of emergency and on April 8, 1960, banned the PAC and the African National Congress.

Nelson Mandela and his 29 co-accused in the infamous Treason Trial were still on trial when the massacre happened. In his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela recalled: “The massacre at Sharpeville created a new situation in the country ... A small group of us – Walter [Sisulu], Duma Nokwe, Joe Slovo and I – held an all-night meeting in Johannesburg to plan a response. We knew we had to acknowledge the events in some way and give the people an outlet for their anger and grief. We conveyed our plans to Chief Luthuli, and he readily accepted them. On March 26, in Pretoria, the chief publicly burned his pass, calling on others to do the same. He announced a nationwide stay-at-home for March 28, a national Day of Mourning and protest for the atrocities at Sharpeville. In Orlando, Duma Nokwe and I then burned our passes before hundreds of people and dozens of press photographers.”

The sight of the streets of Sharpeville just after the Sharpeville Shootings. The Sharpeville massacre was the turning point in the history of political resistance to Apartheid in South Africa.

Apartheid.  Black African protesters seen among a crowd at a Johannesburg protest meeting which defied a ban on such gathering.

The fatal gunning down of some eight score peaceful African demonstrators and the maiming of several hundred others, in a callous and live re-enactment of the "Wild West," rightfully brought international public opinion against apartheid South Africa to a boil. So far the massacres at Sharpeville, Langa, Nyanga and Vanderbijl Park stand out prominently in the minds of people all over the world as the sanguinary examples of apartheid barbarism. Within Azania these massacres which form the darkest cloud in a long nightmare of brutal repression, are revered as a source of inspiration and rededication.. One of the nine SASO members now charged under the Terrorism Act, in the Pretoria Supreme Court at the so-called Palace of Justice.As veterans of Robben Island prison will testify, political prisoners also defiantly hold special meetings to mark 21 March every year. Ever since 1960, from the eve of each anniversary of Sharpeville Day until after, police are put on alert throughout the Vaal triangle. This region in which Sharpeville is located is ringed off by heavily armed men, often with support aircraft hovering above the location itself. Anyone leaving or entering the place must show an official permit.

Racism is a system of domination that came into being over five centuries ago as the seafaring powers of Europe conquered the peoples of the Americas, Africa and Asia to establish their trans-oceanic empires. Because imperial conquest was so brutal, an exculpatory ideology of European (white) racial superiority over the dark skinned people of the world was invented to lend moral justification to the brutalities of empire.It mirrors the mood in a society dubbed the most unequal in the world and serves as a reflection of a new type of struggle South African politicians are having to face.

The official figure is that 69 people were killed, including 8 women and 10 children, and 180 injured, including 31 women and 19 children. Many were shot in the back as they turned to flee.

The mass burial of the 69 victims that died during the Sharpeville Shootings.The Sharpeville Massacre marked a turning point in South Africa’s history. The country found itself increasingly isolated from the international community and the event also played a role in South Africa's departure from the Commonwealth of Nations in 1961.

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