Twenty-eight years later Sharpeville bleeds again

The people were angry, bitterness written on their faces. The reason for the sorrow and anger was the announcement that the "Sharpeville Six" will hang this morning, in fulfillment of the instructions of Justice WJ Human, judge of the Supreme Court, Transvaal Provincial Division, issued in December 1985.

Sharpeville, no stranger to sorrow, will bleed again. On March 21 1960 – 28 years ago – 69 residents of Sharpeville were shot dead by police, catapulting South Africa and the issue of apartheid on to the front pages of newspapers all over the world. The victims had been staging a protest against pass laws. And since 1985, March 21 has assumed a dual significance for millions of blacks in South Africa … it has become a double date with sorrow. For it is also the anniversary of the shooting by police of at least 21 mourners marching to the funeral of unrest victims from KwaNobuhle. Langa residents claim 43 died, and scores were injured.

This week, as I drove Regina Sefatsa (wife of one of the six condemned) into Sharpeville, I was greeted by placards outside her husband's home. They simply read: "God Save My Son". I also saw the burnt-out coming of the home of Jacob Dlamini, a "deputy mayor" of Sharpeville: it is for his death that the six will hang, although Human acknowledged that not all of them were directly involved in his killing. The remains of the home are a monument to the September 1984 uprising, and Dlamini's family has never returned to Sharpeville. In the township, people discussed the week's shocking news: "We still have hope that their lives would be spared," they said.

According to Sefatsa's wife, "Mojelefa has never harmed a fly." A veteran of the 1960 protest march (who asked that his name not be mentioned for fear of victimisation) summed up the atmosphere: "the mood of the people is bitter. The hearts of the people of Sharpeville are bleeding. It is even worse than in 1960." He said the news of the impending hanging of the six was greeted with shock and revulsion. "We have resisted paying rent since September 1984, and I am afraid this cowardly action is going to harden our attitudes more."

The 66-year-old man took part in the march that was repelled by a hail of bullets from police stem guns. He was shot in the left leg and was one of the hundreds of injured. He spent two months at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto and a further 13 months as an awaiting-trial prisoner charged with incitement and public violence. He returned home on June 16, 1961. He said that although most of the policemen involved in the 1960 shootings were now on pension, "there is more repression in our area than ever before. Not only do we have police harassing people, today we have the soldiers making themselves part of this village. "In 1960 there were no municipal police or 'greenflies', nor were there kitskonstables." He said army and police patrols have been stepped up on the streets of Sharpeville since Tuesday morning, when the fate of the six was announced.

Another veteran, 55 year-old Adam Malefane, remembers the 1960 demonstration – nine sten gun bullets were pumped into hi right leg. He was in hospital for more than three years, and still has three bullets lodged in his right knee. Despite his hardship, Malefane does not regret joining the historic pass law protest. "The doom book (reference book) was like a rough chain round my neck," he says now.

On June 9 last year President PW Botha paid an official visit to Sharpeville and was given the "freedom of the township" by Mayor James Mahlatsi. Botha entered one match-box home and the children of Sharpeville gave him a resounding welcome, forming a guard of honour, singing and cheering.

By contrast said an elderly resident this week: "the same school kids are cursing the day PW Botha was born." When news of the impending hangings spread on Tuesday morning, Lekoa Shawdu High School children took to the streets, saying they "could not believe it was the same Botha they had welcomed last June".

Residents in the area say they still suffer from high rentals, poor homes, evictions and a high rate of unemployment "Evictions take place during the day when tenants are at work," a committee representing Vaal residents told Weekly Mail. Compounding these problems for the people of Sharpeville is the removal of their major organisational voice – the Vaal Civic Association, one of the 18 anti-apartheid organisations banned by Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok four weeks ago.  

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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