"This is the call the African people have been waiting for! It has come! On Monday 21st March 1960, we launch our positive, decisive campaign against the pass laws in this our country." Thus spoke Mangaliso Sobukwe, three days before Sharpeville. South Africa had started a new phase in her history.
Three days later the Pan-Africanist leaders started their non-violent campaign to reverse apartheid Mangaliso Sobukwe made his intention clear in a letter to the Commissioner of Police: "I have given strict instruction," he said, "not only to members of my own organisation but also to the African people in general, that they should not allow themselves to be provoked into violent action by anyone."
And so, on the appointed day, Monday 21 March, thousands of Pan-Africanists reported to the police without their passes and asked to be arrested. Their object was to demostrate the force of organised non-violence. They wanted to make the pass laws unworkable as a first step in a long campaign to achieve "freedom and independence" for Africans by 1963.
The police were taken unawares by the crowds of volunteers who asked to be arrested. In some places the leaders were detained, in others they were persuaded to return home. Everything went according to plan, and then, at Sharpeville, tragedy occured.
After the people's protest, after the Sharpeville killings, after 20,000 people had been detained, after 156 days of nightmare, the Government closed another chapter in our Country's history. There was to be no change. Apartheid and baaskap were here to stay.
Text — Drum Magazine / Baileys African History Archive and Africa Media Online
Photographic archive — Baileys African History Archive