March 21, 1960. Sharpeville police station, Sharpville.
Police officers were armed with live ammunition. They shot at a crowd of protesters. The protesters were predominantly black South Africans. They were protesting against pass-laws which required Africans to carry passbooks all the time. After what some witnesses have described as “two minutes of shooting”, 69 people were killed and more than 180 were injured or maimed. Most were shot in the back as they were running away from the police which were said to have gone rogue.
March 21, 1960. Langa Flats bus terminus, Cape Town.
As the day was coming to an end, a large group of protestors gathered there in their thousands. The police ordered the few thousand people to disperse as they were in contravention of the “Riotous Assemblies Act 17 of 1956” commonly known as the Public Gatherings Act, which prohibited gatherings in open-air public places if the Minister of Justice considered they could endanger the public peace. The protestors resisted and the police attacked them with live ammunition and tear gas. As the crowds fled into Langa Township, three black people were killed and several dozens injured.
March 21, 1960. Orlando, Soweto.
Mr Sobukwe walked from his house in Mofolo towards his destination, Orlando police station, where he intended to hand himself in for arrest as he was not carrying his pass on his person.
Early morning, the first President of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) Robert Sobukwe handed in his resignation letter at the University of Witwatersrand where he was employed as a lecturer. Five days before that, he had written a letter to the Commissioner of Police, Major General Rademeyer, stating that the PAC would be holding a five-day, peaceful and sustained protest campaign against pass laws. He had planned to march against the pass law “The Natives (Abolition of Passes and Co-ordination of Documents) Act of 1952”.
Mr Sobukwe walked from his house in Mofolo towards his destination, Orlando police station, where he intended to hand himself in for arrest as he was not carrying his pass on his person. Along the way he was joined by groups of marchers from neighbouring communities. As they approached the station, many were arrested and charged with sedition. Mr Sobukwe was sentenced to three years imprisonment for inciting people to demand the abolishment of the pass laws.
March 21, 1994. South Africa.
The government declared this day a public holiday, Human Rights Day. It was included as part of the list of national holidays of the democratically free South Africa and is observed annually. South Africans are asked to reflect on their rights and how to protect themselves against violation.
In 1996, the first leader of democratic South Africa, President Nelson Mandela, signed the new South African Constitution into law in Sharpeville symbolizing the victory of the masses that gathered there for the protest over an oppressive apartheid system.
21 March, 2016
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) has also declared 21 March as the International Day for The Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
March 21… Every Year.
Honours and commemorate those who fought for our liberation and the rights we enjoy today. The Sharpville massacre was the first public protest to sustain the largest number of casualties in our History.
This specific date was chosen so that we never forget the losses sustained and sacrifices made in Sharpeville and that we never return to a system of governance that promotes the interests of one human being or race over those of another.
March 21, 2019. At the former Sharpville police station.
The place where many fell as victims of brutality in the 1960 massacre, is now an official national heritage site.
‘Sharpeville Human Rights Precinct’ is written on a high wall at the entrance to what is now the Sharpeville Memorial site. The police station has been closed. The place where many fell as victims of brutality in the 1960 massacre, is now an official national heritage site.
A memorial now stands as a tribute over the place where many fell as they fled from the police. It symbolizes and serves as a reminder of that tragic day as well as a commemoration and victory of the brave who put their lives in the line of fire literally, to protest and stand for equality for all.
As a black person, today is somber and emboldening. It is hurtful and yet the tribute serves as a source of pride that fills us with courage and hope as our chests swell.
As a black person, today is somber and emboldening.
59 years later, here is what we know. Brave men and women stood up against an oppressive government. Their safety and lives were the price they were willing to pay for everyone to have equal rights.
Some lost their lives during the protests, while others were injured and some still carry scars to this day that time hasn’t erased. Monuments were erected and holidays declared here at home and internationally.
A new Constitution was written and signed into law, to ensure that no person in our country would ever suffer inhumane treatment such as the segregation marginalization caused by the pass laws.
Greatest of all, protestors in other parts of the country joined in on the same day to demand the repealing of the draconian pass laws. In geographically separate areas, they were arrested, beaten up and killed for the same cause. In a time when there were no cellphones and internet to coordinate marches and protests, their spirits were joined and their sacrifice was united.
As I walk past Sharpeville today, I wonder if all our citizens feel equal or free
As I walk past Sharpeville today, I wonder if all our citizens feel equal or free. Does the youth feel thankful for the protests that took place so many years ago? Do the survivors of the massacre feel proud for they stand they took and would they do it again?
Have we learnt enough as a people to never allow lives to be lost in pursuit of the most basic of human rights?
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