Michael Trapido
Michael Trapido

Sharpeville redux and a bit more

On March 21 1960 South African police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters, killing 69 people, in what would become known around the world as “The Sharpeville Massacre”.

On that occasion while the ANC was in the process of launching a campaign of protests against pass laws it was their rival Pan Africanist Congress which was responsible for the mass demonstrations that resulted in the bloodshed. They cannot, however, be blamed for the scale of the tragedy which falls fair and square on the shoulders of the police and government of South Africa at the time.

On that fateful day a group of between 5 000 and 7 000 people converged on the local police station in the township of Sharpeville, offering themselves up for arrest for not carrying their pass books.

As the large crowd gathered the atmosphere was peaceful and festive with less than 20 police officers in the station at the start of the protest. Police and military tried using low-flying jet fighters in an attempt disperse the crowd without success.

As a result the police set up Saracen armoured vehicles in a line facing the protesters and, at 13:15, incredibly, opened fire on the crowd.

Police reports claim that there was stone throwing as a result of which the inexperienced police officers opened fire spontaneously. In light of the casualties sustained, that is patently nonsensical.

The police were armed with Stens and tear gas which offered a viable alternative to crowd dispersal with minimum loss of life. Lieutenant Colonel Pienaar, the commanding officer of the police forces denied giving the order to fire and stated that he would not have done so. His attitude towards the protestors is, however, revealed in his statement which claims that “the native mentality does not allow them to gather for a peaceful demonstration. For them to gather means violence”.

The official casualties were 69 people killed, including 8 women and 10 children, with more than 180 injured.

To date the worst case of police insanity in the history of this country.

As a result there followed a spontaneous uprising among black South Africans with demonstrations, protest marches, strikes, and riots taking place throughout the country.

This led to the government declaring a state of emergency on March 30 1960, which saw more than 18 000 people detained.

On February 23 2010 Sharpeville was once again the focal point of public frustration against a South African government but this time it is that of the ANC who 50 years ago were preparing to launch their campaign against the pass laws.

The cause of their grievance — like so many poorer communities around the country — is the continuing failure to speed up service delivery.

Fortunately for protesters this time around there are police who are not armed with ludicrous preconceptions about “the native mentality” and thirteen people were arrested for allegedly stoning a police vehicle.

That as you may recall was the signal for mass bloodshed five decades before.

Superintendent Nthabiseng Mazibuku confirmed that the arrests are for acts of public violence and malicious damage to property. The only injury was to a woman who was struck while a bus picking up passengers was stoned. She was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

Mazibuku said residents had used “anything they could find”, including burning tyres, to barricade roads.

Later in the morning, community leaders and residents gathered at the Sharpeville Stadium to meet government officials “under the supervision and control” of the police, Mazibuku said.

Every day South Africans realise more and more that the billions that go missing through arms deals, social grant fraud, tender fraud and nepotism and the negligence of unqualified cronies who occasion losses of billions in damages to the economy, are going to extract a very heavy price sooner rather than later.

The defence to this is to unchain the media completely and mandate the Hawks to go where the Scorpions had gone before them.

Get rid of the corruption and cronyism before the masses of the country get rid of those who stand in the way of ridding South Africa of this blight on our political landscape.