Sharpeville Massacre: Wikis


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The Sharpeville Massacre, also known as the Sharpeville shootings, occurred on 21 March 1960, when South African police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters, killing 69 people. The confrontation occurred in the township of Sharpeville, in what is now Gauteng province.

Contents

Preceding events

Since the 1920s, the movements of black South Africans were restricted by pass laws. Leading up to the Sharpeville massacre, the apartheid-supporting National Party government under the leadership of Hendrik Verwoerd used these laws to enforce greater segregation[1] and, in 1959-1960, extended them to include women.[2]:pp.14,528 From the early 1960s, the pass laws were the primary instrument used by the state to arrest and harass its political opponents. By the same token, it was mainly the popular resistance, mobilised against those pass laws, that kept resistance politics alive during this period.[2]:p.163

The African National Congress (ANC) had decided to launch a campaign of protests against pass laws. These protests were to begin on 31 March 1960, but the rival Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) decided to pre-empt the ANC by launching its own campaign ten days earlier, on 21 March, because they believed that the ANC could not win the campaign.[3]

Massacre

The result of police fire with automatic and other weapons

On 21 March, a group of between 5,000 and 7,000 people converged on the local police station in the township of Sharpeville, offering themselves up for arrest for not carrying their pass books.[4] This was part of a broader campaign organized by the PAC. There is evidence that the PAC used intimidating means to draw the crowd to the protest, including the cutting of telephone lines into Sharpeville, the distribution of pamphlets telling people not to go to work on the day, and coercion of bus drivers.[2]:p.534 Regardless, most of the crowd were in favour of the protest.

By 10:00 am, a large crowd had gathered, and the atmosphere was peaceful and festive. Fewer than 20 police officers were present in the station at the start of the protest. Police and military used low-flying Sabre jet fighters to attempt to intimidate the crowd into dispersing, a tactic that had been successful at a similar protest on the same day at Evaton.[2]:p.535 The police set up Saracen armoured vehicles in a line facing the protesters and, at 1:15 pm, fired upon the crowd.

Reasons for firing

Police reports claimed that members of the crowd threw stones at them (or at their cars) and that inexperienced police officers opened fire spontaneously. The police were armed with Stens and tear gas. Lieutenant Colonel Pienaar, the commanding officer of the police forces at Sharpeville, denied giving any order to fire and stated that he would not have done so. Nevertheless, his attitude towards the protest is revealed in his statement that "the native mentality does not allow them to gather for a peaceful demonstration. For them to gather means violence."[5] It is likely that the police were nervous as, two months before the massacre, nine police officers had been killed by a mob at Cato Manor.[3] Evidence given to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1998 suggested "a degree of deliberation in the decision to open fire". The police continued firing even when the crowd had turned to run, and the majority of those killed and wounded were shot in the back.[2]:p.537 There was no evidence that anyone in the crowd was armed.[1]

Death and injury toll

The official figure is that 69 people were killed, including 8 women and 10 children, and over 180 injured, including 31 women and 19 children.[5]

Response

Painting depicting victims of the massacre

The uproar among blacks was immediate, and the following week saw demonstrations, protest marches, strikes, and riots around the country. On 30 March 1960, the government declared a state of emergency, detaining more than 18,000 people.

A storm of international protest followed the Sharpeville shootings, including sympathetic demonstrations in many countries[6][7] and condemnation by the United Nations. On 1 April 1960, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 134. Sharpeville marked a turning point in South Africa's history; the country found itself increasingly isolated in the international community. The event also played a role in South Africa's departure from the Commonwealth of Nations in 1961.

The Sharpeville massacre led to the banning of the PAC and ANC and was one of the catalysts for a shift from passive resistance to armed resistance by these organisations. The foundation of Poqo, the military wing of the PAC, and Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC, followed shortly afterwards.

Aftermath

Since 1994, 21 March has been commemorated as Human Rights Day in South Africa.

Sharpeville was the site selected by President Nelson Mandela for the signing into law of the Constitution of South Africa on 10 December 1996.

In 1998, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) found that the police actions constituted "gross human rights violations in that excessive force was unnecessarily used to stop a gathering of unarmed people."[2]:p.537

See also

References

  1. ^ a b "The Sharpeville Massacre". Time Magazine. 4 April 1960. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,869441-1,00.html. Retrieved 15 December 2006. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f (PDF) Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report, Volume 3, Chapter 6. 28 October 1998. pp. 531–537. http://www.doj.gov.za/trc/report/finalreport/TRC%20VOLUME%203.pdf. Retrieved 15 December 2006. 
  3. ^ a b Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "Sharpeville Massacre, The Origin of South Africa's Human Rights Day". about.com. http://africanhistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa-SharpevilleMassacre-a.htm. Retrieved 15 December 2006. 
  4. ^ Remember Sharpeville at South African History
  5. ^ a b Reeves, Rt. Reverend Ambrose. "The Sharpeville Massacre - A watershed in South Africa". sahistory.org.za. http://www.sahistory.org.za/pages/library-resources/articles_papers/1960-sharpeville-massacre-rev-ambrose.html. Retrieved 15 July 2007. 
  6. ^ "Outside South Africa there were widespread reactions to Sharpeville in many countries which in many cases led to positive action against South Africa".—Reeves Rt-Rev A.The Sharpeville Massacre--a Watershed in South Africa
  7. ^ Eg, "[I]mmediately following the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, over 1000 students demonstrated in Sydney against the apartheid system".—Barcan A. Student activists at Sydney University 1960-1967 in History of Education Review, 1 January 2007








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