ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How the Sharpeville massacre of 21 March 1960 influences the course of South African history

Updated on November 11, 2014

The elders used to say."there is no smoke without fire." This adage aptly describes the sour and tense relationship which existed between black South Africans and the apartheid regime in March 1960.The black South Africans were experiencing racism and separate development. This was counter productive and it was perpetuating the supremacy of one race. The black South Africans came to a point of do or die. They had no option except to show their resentment of the high handedness of the settlers regime. It got worse in the township of Sharpeville, in Transvaal area on 21 March, 1960.The black South Africans had to do something at least to show the apartheid government that they had sharp teeth to bite.

A group of peaceful demonstrators gathered to vent their anger against the oppressive laws directed at Africans. In their land of births the Africans were required by law to carry a pass every time they leave their compounds. This didn't go down well with the majority of Africans who believed that they were the indigenous people of South Africa. They felt that their umbilical cords were intrinsically linked to South Africa and were disposed in South Africa when they were born.It made them feel that they were the true sons and daughters of South Africa and they deserved to be treated with dignity. On that fateful day,the arm of the police descended heavily on peaceful protesters on 21st March 1960.The police gunned down protesters in cold blood.There was a blood bath. The peaceful demonstrators couldn't stand the sea of bullets which were fired at close range. A good number of the unarmed protesters perished on this fateful day.

To add insult to injury,on 30 March,1960,the apartheid government declared a state of emergency and more than 18.000 Africans were detained. It was detention without trial. This caused a 'dormant volcano' to erupt. The relationship between the Africans and the regime was already fragile and tainted.This incident worsened it beyond repair.The relationship of the two camps became irrepairable and it became the turning point of the South African history.The Africans took to the streets in protest marches, strikes,demonstrations and riots across the country. The softly-softly approach of the black South Africans changed to confrontation. It changed from passive resistance to armed resistance.

In the wake of these demonstrations PAC and ANC changed from passive resistance to armed resistance. Poqo, the military wing of PAC was founded. Umkonto we Siswe, the military wing of the ANC followed suit. Churches and international organizations started funding the military wings. International community rallied behind them and started staging sympathetic demonstrations in various countries condemning the massacre. The United Nations recognised the plight of the South Africans and they became supportive of their cause - this led South Africa to be more and more isolated in the world. With the support of the United Nations the apartheid regime breathed fire. South Africa left the commonwealth in 1961.The Sharpeville massacre ignited all this, it managed to put the plight of the oppressed South Africans in the limelight.

Their softly,softly approach to apartheid turned confrontational. The black South Africans took it upon themselves, they believed that the only language the regime was to understand was through the barrel of the gun. They believed in earnest that only a guerrilla war was going to tip the balance of power in South Africa.This led to a protracted guerrila warfare. It also led to the sentencing of Madiba, Nelson Mandela to life imprisonment at Robben Island. He served 18-years of his 27-years in prison at Robben Island.

The Sharpeville massacre became the turning point of the South African history in that the liberation struggle turned from passive resistance to confrontational and it eventually led to the independence of South Africa. It acted as a wake up call for the South Africans that enough was enough and it was the opportune moment to take the bully by the horns. Blood was spilled in the name of freedom.The concerted effort of both the PAC and the ANC put the plight of the South Africans on the world stage. The South African revolution had sympathisers home and away.

Nelson Mandela became the first black president and brought an end to apartheid. It became the dawn of a new era in the history of South Africa. He ruled for 14- years before retiring from active politics. He managed to unite South Africa as a rainbow nation and also to make South Africa an economic giant in the world. All these successes were made possible by the Sharpeville massacre which marked the turning point of the South African history.

After independence the Sharpeville massacre continued to influence the history of South Africa. It became the symbol and beacon of racial tolerance. This incident in modern day South Africa is remembered and is used to promote racial tolerance.In the present day South Africa,21st March is celebrated as a public holiday.The purpose of the holiday is to celebrate how the government is enforcing equal opportunities for all South Africans - a bad incident is capitalised on and is used to further peaceful interests for the greater good of South Africa's rainbow nation.

The leaders of the modern South Africa use this public holiday to proclaim to the South Africans that, indeed racial harmony and equal opportunities can be realised in South Africa despite a shambolic past triggered by the Sharpeville massacre. The public holiday proclaims to the world that in South Africa, it is now dawn of a new era. It is now time to bury the hatchet and forge ahead for the greater good of the Rainbow nation. Gone are the days of the oppressor and the oppressed - gone are the days of the pass laws. Harmoniously South Africa is forging ahead as one of Africa's successful economies.

Sharpeville massacre continues to influence South African history in that, instead of letting it go into the history books of South Africa portraying only the bad side of it, the authorities chose Sharpeville, as the ideal place to sign the South African constitution into law by Nelson Mandela, on 10 December 1996.UNESCO marks 21st March as the yearly International Day for the elimination of Racial Discrimination in memory of the massacre. Indeed by choosing this venue to sign the constitution into law it shows that South Africa is ready to leave its past behind and promote reconciliation among its approximately 53 million people. Indeed the elders are correct, when they say,let bygones be bygones - united we stand, divided we fall. Indeed evil should not beget evil South Africans have shown us that after a storm the dust can settle.


1 Boddy.Evans, Alistar "Sharpeville Massacre,The Origin of SouthAfrican's Human Rights Day"

2 Reeves, Rt Reverend Ambrose."Sharpeville Massacre- A watershed in South Africa"


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • samazi profile imageAUTHOR

      Masimba Mukichi 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      It's a day of celebration, thanks.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 years ago from The Caribbean

      So today, you celebrate "equal opportunities for all South Africans". Hooray! Thanks for sharing the facts and enjoy the day.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)