ON Monday, March 21, 1960, South Africans and the world at large witnessed the brutal massacre of 69 men, women and children between the ages of 15 and 70 years, and the maiming of a further 189 people at the hands of the South African police at the Sharpeville police station, in Gauteng.
Back then, ‘Black’ South African adults were required by law to carry with them a voluminous identity pass (also called the ‘dompas’), which determined where they could live, work, and when and where they could walk.
The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), under the leadership of Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, who also launched the Positive Action Campaign on March 21, 1960, called upon everyone to defy the draconian law and join the anti-pass campaign by leaving their passes at home, marching to the nearest police station and handing themselves over for arrest.
Demonstrations were meant to be peaceful and well disciplined. If arrested, all men would go to jail under the slogan, ‘No bail. No defence. No fine.’
On Wednesday, March 30, 1960, a 23-year-old Philip Khosana, a University of Cape Town (UCT) student, activist and PAC cadre led a 30 000-strong protest march from Langa (Cape Town) along Rhodes and De Waal Drives to Caledon Square Police Station.
These events were seen as critical points in the history of South Africa.
The violence, rioting and states of emergency that followed in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre culminated in the collapse of the apartheid regime, and the country’s first democratically elected president more than three decades later.
The commemorative programme in honour of the 69 Sharpeville martyrs, hosted by the Qibla Movement on Tuesday, March 21, 2017, was held at the former Nico Malan Nursing College, off Klipfontein Road, Surrey Estate.
A deeply moving minute of silence and a demonstration of solidarity with the deceased families by holding up the names of every one of the 69 martyrs was observed by the audience.
A significant part of the programme was devoted to the screening of two revealing documentaries, one on the life history of former PAC leader, Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe, and the other dealing with the phenomenon of xenophobia in South Africa.
Four dynamic guest speakers, namely Mr Mahmoud Patel (lecturer at University of the Western Cape (UWC) and former ANC Umkhonto we Sizwe cadre), Imam Achmad Cassiem (co-founder and leader of the Qibla Movement and one of the youngest to have been imprisoned on Robben Island), Comrade Albert Mpazayabo (former Rwandan refugee) and Comrade Sabelo Sibanda (PAC activist) provided insightful deliberations.
Each speaker raised pertinent issues pertaining to Sharpeville, xenophobia and the lessons that should be drawn from them, albeit 57 years later.
Some of the contributions included:
- In South Africa, the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ has increased alarmingly. Places of work are not free from discrimination and, since 1994, has seen a sharp rise in income inequality.
- The present ANC-led government is decidedly not a democratic one but merely one representing the majority of people who have voted for it.
- The government is seen to be dragging its feet with respect to the equitable distribution of land.
- Many have taken issue with the implementation of the law as government appears to have legalised criminality.
- When the Quran refers to ‘an-nas’ it means the whole of humankind and that there is only one race, the human race. Sobukwe rejected multiracism as he argued that this concept is merely racism multiplied and hence we should be antiracist. The United Nations has declared March 21 to be International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
- The primary purpose of education is to teach human beings how to live with other human beings.
- Although the South African Constitution is often touted to be the best in the world, the reality is that the Constitution was drawn up by people and multi-national corporations who have vested interests in this country. Thus, although the oppressed masses appear to have gained political control, economic power remains in the hands of the few who control the wealth of this country.
- A view was expressed that South Africans stand accused of having ‘Afrophobia’ rather than xenophobia when refugees from African countries are being continuously attacked and driven from their new homes in South Africa. The same treatment is apparently not meted out to other foreign nationals and to shopping mall owners from foreign countries.
- The political system seems to favour ‘white’ domination. Our leaders today seem to hate erstwhile oppressors but not their oppression. The masses have been misled by them, who have now become the new oppressors.
What transpired at Sharpeville will always be regarded as a crime against humanity and March 21, 1960, will always be remembered as Sharpeville Day by the oppressed masses in South Africa.