51 years on: Remembering Sharpeville

51 years on: Remembering Sharpeville

- The non-violent protest turned into one of the biggest bloodbaths in South African history

- When 300 armed officers faced off against 5000 protesters it was a recipe for disaster

- 51 years on we look back at that fateful day and hope that since then we have learned something

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On the 21st of March 1960 what was meant to be a non-violent protest turned into a massacre which would change the face of South African politics forever.

The march was organised by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), a splinter group of the ANC, in protest to the pass laws which restricted the movement of black South Africans throughout the country.

The point of the march was to purposefully get arrested as a form of protest but the plan was envisioned on a scale never before seen. The PAC hoped that thousands would be arrested, filling the jails beyond capacity and grinding the economy to a halt.

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When the marchers reached the Sharpeville police station they were greeted by a large force of police officers. The crowd was let through but were prevented form entering the police station.

By midday 300 officers faced off against a crowd of 5000 protesters. A scuffle broke out and according to police the protesters began through stones, a panicked officer atop an armoured car open fire and the other officers followed suit.

69 people were killed and between 150-180 people were injured after the policed opened fire. The Sharpeville police were the only officers armed with live ammunition on the day.

Across the East Rand, police officers were equipped with police batons. The official inquiry revealed that many of the protesters who were shot were in the process of running away.

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In memory of the event Dennis Brutus wrote a poem simply titled, A poem about Sharpeville.

A poem about Sharpeville

What is important

about Sharpeville

is not that seventy died:

nor even that they were shot in the back

retreating, unarmed, defenseless

and certainly not

the heavy caliber slug

that tore through a mother’s back

and ripped through the child in her arms

killing it

Remember Sharpeville

bullet-in-the-back day

Because it epitomized oppression

and the nature of society

more clearly than anything else;

it was the classic event

Nowhere is racial dominance

more clearly defined

nowhere the will to oppress

more clearly demonstrated

what the world whispers

apartheid with snarling guns

the blood lust after

South Africa spills in the dust

Remember Sharpeville

Remember bullet-in-the-back day

And remember the unquenchable will for freedom

Remember the dead

and be glad.

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Source: Briefly.co.za

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