How the Sharpeville massacre of 21 March 1960 influences the course of South African history
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" about.com
2 Reeves, Rt Reverend Ambrose."Sharpeville Massacre- A watershed in South Africa"sahistory.org.za