Monday this week- the 21st March- marked the 50th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre, an event that proved to be a turning point in the struggle to overthrow the South African apartheid regime. Survivors and families of victims met in Sharpeville to remember the events that occurred over 50 years ago and lay wreaths at the cemetery on the gravestones of those killed.
What is important
is not that seventy died:
nor even that they were shot in the back
retreating, unarmed, defenseless
and certainly not
the heavy caliber slug
that tore through a mother’s back
and ripped through the child in her arms
Because it epitomized oppression
and the nature of society
more clearly than anything else;
it was the classic event
Nowhere is racial dominance
more clearly defined
nowhere the will to oppress
more clearly demonstrated
what the world whispers
apartheid with snarling guns
the blood lust after
South Africa spills in the dust
Remember bullet-in-the-back day
And remember the unquenchable will for freedom
Remember the dead
and be glad.
© Dennis Brutus
On March 21 1960 some 7000 demonstrators rallied at the township of Sharpeville in the Transvaal to protest the hated pass laws that required black and colored South Africans to carry a pass book. Police opened fire on the demonstrators, killing 69 and injuring over 200. Many of the victims were women and children.
The massacre proved to be a catalyst for armed resistance and international condemnation of the Apartheid regime.
What is interesting about Sharpeville is that the demonstrations were organized not by the African National Congress (ANC), but by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) , a break away group dissatisfied with the pace and intensity of the ANC's campaigns. The PAC proved to be the party of action in the struggle against apartheid. The PAC still exists in South Africa but is struggling to survive as a political force.
Ironic to note as well that the 50 years after the Sharpeville massacre the celebrations are taking place amidst a backdrop pf protests and demonstrations by impoverished black communities demanding basic services such as clean water, housing and electricity that the ANC government has failed to deliver.
In South Africa since 1994 March 21 is Human Rights Day. March 21 is also the International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination in memory of the massacre.
The UK Guardian has an audio sideshow that relives the events of March 21 1950 through the account of survivor Ikabot 'Ike' Makiki.