Wednesday, January 13, 2010


The Commission finds that the police deliberately opened fire on an unarmed crowd that had gathered peacefully at Sharpville on 21 March 1960 to protest against the pass laws. The Commission finds further that the SAP (South African Police) failed to give the crowd an order to disperse before they began firing and that they continued to fire upon the fleeing crowd, resulting in hundreds of people being shot in the back. As a result of the excessive force used, 69 people were killed and more than 300 injured. The Commission finds further that the police failed to facilitate access to medical and/or other assistance to those who were wounded immediately after the march.

"The Commission finds that many of the participants in the march were apolitical, women and unarmed, and had attended the march because they were opposed to the pass laws. The Commission finds, therefore, that many of the people fired upon and injured in the march were not politicised members of any political party, but merely persons opposed to carrying a pass.

"The Commission finds that many of those injured in the march were placed under police guard in hospital as if they were convicted criminals and, upon release from hospital, were detained for long periods in prison before being formally charged. In the majority of instances when persons so detained appeared in court, the charges were withdrawn.

"The Commission finds the former state and the minister of police directly responsible for the commission of gross human rights violations in that excessive force was unnecessarily used to stop a gathering of unarmed people. Police failed to give an order to disperse and/or adequate time to disperse, relied on live ammunition rather than alternative methods of crowd dispersal and fired in a sustained manner into the back of the crowd, resulting in the death of sixty-nine people and the injury of more than 300."

From the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report, Vol 3, Chapter 6, October '98

In 1966 the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a resolution to recognize March 21st as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. March 21st was chosen to commemorate the Sharpeville Massacre of March 21st 1960. On 21 March 1960, in Sharpeville, Azania (South Africa) 69 Africans died and more than 300 were wounded (shot in the back) as they fled the murderous gunfire of white police. The Africans had gathered in a peaceful demonstration to protest the steady loss of their human rights, as white interlopers/settlers stole their land. The pass laws of the white supremacist settler group who had seized the African country decades before had become an unbearable burden for the Africans. African men and women were forced to carry the passbook, an identifying document that restricted their movement in urban areas where white people had settled and occupied exclusively. March 16th 1960, the organizers of the protest, the Pan African Congress (PAC), had written to the commissioner of police, Major General Rademeyer, stating that there would be a five day, non-violent, disciplined and sustained protest campaign against pass laws, starting on 21 March. At a press conference on 18 March, Robert Subukwe, leader of PAC said: "I have appealed to the African people to make sure that this campaign is conducted in a spirit of absolute non-violence, and I am quite certain they will heed my call. If the other side so desires, we will provide them with an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how brutal they can be."

On the morning of 21st March, 1960 approximately 300 extra police and five (Saracen) armoured vehicles arrived at the local police station in Sharpeville as the marchers approached the police station. By 1:15 p.m. the 5,000 strong group of protesters had dwindled to less than 400 when police opened fire without any warning. The unarmed men, women and children were gunned down as they fled. Members of the press later gave eyewitness accounts of the carnage. Humphrey Tyler, assistant editor of Drum Magazine witnessed: “One woman was hit about ten yards from our car. Her companion, a young man, went back when she fell. He thought she had stumbled. Then he turned her over and saw that her chest had been blown away from the hail of bullets. He looked at the blood on his hand and screamed: 'My God, she's gone!' Hundreds of kids were running, too. One little boy had on an old blanket coat, which he held up behind his head, thinking, perhaps, that it might save him from the bullets. Some of the children, hardly as tall as the grass, were leaping like rabbits. Some were shot, too. Still the shooting went on. One of the policemen was standing on top of a Saracen, and it looked as though he was firing his gun into the crowd. He was swinging it around in a wide arc from his hip as though he were panning a movie camera. Two other officers were with him, and it looked as if they were firing pistols. Most of the bodies were strewn on the road running through the field in which we were. One man, who had been lying still, dazedly got to his feet, staggered a few yards, then fell in a heap. A woman sat with her head cupped in her hands.” Ian Berry, a photographer for Drum magazine was also present on March 21st and his eyewitness account of the Sharpeville Massacre was; “The cops were now standing on top of their armoured cars waving sten guns, and when I was fifty yards away from the compound they opened fire into the crowd. People started to run in all directions, some towards me, some away. The majority of the people who were killed were running away, around the side of the compound I had just come from. A woman was hit immediately beside me. A boy ran towards me with his coat pulled up over his head as if to protect himself from the bullets. I fell to the ground on my stomach and took pictures. The shooting stopped, and then it started again. When it stopped for the second time, a man stood over the woman next to me and touched her. He lifted his hand and hesitated for a moment and looked at it, covered in blood. I thought I would be shot myself if I didn't get out and I ran back to Humphrey and the car. We took off.” The shooting finally stopped when there were no moving protestors in sight. When the smoke cleared there were 69 dead including eight women and ten children and 300 wounded, including 31 women and 19 children. The Sharpeville Massacre prompted worldwide condemnation of the minority white supremacist, illegitimate government of Azania. This led to international protests and calls for disinvesting in the white supremacist apartheid structure of South Africa. In spite of the brutality of the white supremacist government in South Africa, disinvestment did not happen on a large scale until the 1980’s.

On March 21, 1986, Canada’s Prime Minister proclaimed in the House of Commons, the country's participation in the United Nations call to all states and organizations to participate in the “Program of Action for the Second Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination.” In September, 1988, ministers attending a federal/provincial/territorial ministerial conference on human rights agreed to commemorate March 21 in all Canadian jurisdictions. In spite of the “official” Canadian stance on anti-racism, the practice leaves much to be desired. In the first three months of 2008 there have been incidents of anti-African racism on the campuses of the three universities in this city where the motto is “diversity our strength.” There have also been several racist remarks made by elected officials. The continued attack by the white and some other media on the Toronto District School Board’s decision to establish an alternative African centred school in September 2009 is a clear indication that March 21st has to be recognized with more than lip service.
Written in March 2008

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