Sharpeville Massacre dark day in our history
“AFRICAN people have entrusted their whole future to us. And we have sworn that we are leading them, not to death, but to life abundant.
“My instructions, therefore, are that our people must be taught now and continuously that in this campaign we are going to observe absolute nonviolence,” PAC president Robert Sobukwe said at a press conference on Saturday, March 19, 1960.
Sobukwe announced that the PAC was to embark on an antipass campaign on March 21.
That day would become known as the Sharpeville Massacre, when the South African Police opened fire on a protesting crowd, killing 69 people.
At the annual ANC conference held in Durban in December 1959, the president-general of the ANC, Albert Luthuli, announced that 1960 was going to be the “Year of the Pass”.
The ANC planned to launch a nationwide anti-pass campaign in March.
But soon a breakaway group from the ANC, the PAC, held its first conference in Johannesburg.
At this conference, it was announced that the PAC would launch its own anti-pass campaign.
At the press conference, Sobukwe emphasised that the campaign should be conducted in a spirit of non-violence.
On the morning of the 21st, PAC leaders first gathered in a field not far from the Sharpeville police station.
Once the group had grown, they proceeded to the police station – chanting freedom songs.
By midday, a crowd of about 5 000 had gathered, with about 300 police keeping guard.
Shortly after 1pm, a small scuffle ensued near the entrance of the police station. According to recounts, a policeman was pushed over and the crowd began to move forward.
According to police, protesters began to stone them and, without warning, one policemen atop an armoured car panicked and opened fire.
His colleagues followed suit and began shooting at the crowd.
They were said to be jittery after an event in Durban where nine policemen were shot.
When the shooting ended after about two minutes, 69 people were dead and about 180 injured.
Eyewitness accounts say the protesters were given no warning to disperse.
Many of the victims had been shot in the back, signalling their intention to flee.