Where the Non-violent Campaign to Reverse Apartheid Began

The Sharpeville Massacre

By Africa Media Online

Sharpeville massacre (1960-03-21)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

The Sharpeville Massacre

On 21 March 1960, the first and most violent demonstration against the Apartheid took place in South Africa. 69 black people were killed by the police and more than 180 wounded, many women and children. It was a turning point for the fight against the Apartheid rule and a state of emergency was declared. On 10 December 1996, President Nelson Mandela signed the new constitution at the Sharpeville site.

Sharpeville massacre (1960-03-21)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

The following story is from The Drum October 1960, and describes the unfolding of the massacre

Five Months Nightmare (1960-03-21)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

"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.

Sharpeville massacre (1960-03-21)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

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 organization but also to the African people in general, that they should not allow themselves to be provoked into violent action by anyone."

Sharpeville massacre - how it began (1960-03-21)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

And so, on the appointed day Monday March 21, thousands of Pan-Africanists reported to the police without their passes and asked to be arrested.

Sharpeville: how it began. (1960-03-21)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

Their object was to demonstrate 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.

Sharpeville massacre - how it began (1960-03-21)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

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.

Sharpeville massacre - how it began (1960-03-21)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

It was officially announced that 67 Africans were killed and 186 wounded, after the police had opened fire on the crowd.

Sharpeville massacre (1960-03-21)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

Though it was the PAC that took the lead in the anti-pass law campaign, it was Chief Albert Luthuli of the ANC who called on Africans to observe March 28 as a day of Mourning. PAC leaders supported this move, and Africans responded with unanimity.

Sharpeville massacre (1960-03-21)Original Source: Baileys African History Archive

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.

Credits: All media
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