The Sharpeville Massacre took place on 21 March 1960 at the police station in the South African Township of Sharpeville in Transville. Recently, a day after protests against pass laws, a mob of thousands of protesters attacked the police station. To control the situation, the South African Police opened fire on the crowd, killing 69 people and injuring 180.
Sources have different opinions about the crowd. Some people say that the crowd was demonstrating in a peaceful manner. At the same time, some people say that the protesters had become attackers and were throwing stones at the police. When the crowd started moving towards the boundary of the police station, the firing started.
The public holiday is on 21 March
During this period, a total of 249 people were killed, including 29 children. Many people got shot in the back while running. The massacre was covered by photographer Iyar Berry. He told that initially, the police were firing in the air. Let us tell you that on March 21, in South Africa, there is a public holiday in honor of human rights and in memory of the Sharpeville Massacre.
The massacre changed Sharpeville’s life forever. Earlier life of the people was normal. Sharpville was first settled in 1943 near Topville. The city of Topville was experiencing diseases such as pneumonia due to overcrowding. Due to these diseases in 1958, the migration from Topville started and about 10,000 thousand Africans were forcibly sent to Sharpeville.
Protests started due to change in the law
Unemployment and crime were at their peak in Sharpville. Most of the children were joining criminal gangs and entering the world of crime instead of schools. To curb the ever-increasing crime, a new police station was built, from where the police were going to investigate and conduct raids.
South African governments have since the 18th century taken some measures to stop the flow of Black South African people into the cities. Changes were made in laws governing and directing traffic and employment in the 1950s. Under the National Party government in the country, black residents in urban districts were subjected to new measures of control. Many documents like passbook, identity card were made mandatory for people above sixteen years of age.
Pan-Africanist Congress started the movement
The National Party administration under the leadership of Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd used these laws to increase racial segregation and women also joined it in 1959–1960. From the 1960s onwards, this law began to be used as a major weapon to imprison and harass political opponents.
The African National Congress (ANC) prepared to launch a protest against the pass laws. These protests were to begin on 31 March but rival Pan-Africanist Congressman Robert Sobukwe started his campaign ten days earlier on 21 March as he believed that the ANC would not succeed in this movement.
What happened on 21 March?
On 21 March, five to 10 thousand people surrounded the local police station and started demanding their arrest due to not having a passbook. The Sharpeville police were quite prepared for such a demonstration because they had driven a group of militants away the night before. Many people came to this demonstration on their own, but there is evidence that the PAC forced many people to come there. At the beginning of the protest at around 10 pm, less than 20 police officers were present at the police station.
Later the crowd increased to 20,000 and the situation became worse. 130 policemen with four armored vehicles rushed to the spot. The police was ready with weapons while people in the crowd had stones. F-86 Saber jets and Harvard trainers were also flying over the protesters. The protesters started pelting stones, in which three policemen were injured and tried to break the police barricade. The police released tear gas shells but proved to be ineffective. At around 1 am, the police tried to arrest one of the protestors and the mob went ahead, after which the firing started.
According to official figures, 69 people were killed during this period, including 8 women, 10 children. At the same time, 180 people were injured, including 31 women and 19 children. Many people were shot in the back while fleeing, leaving some paralyzed.