Thursday March 21 sees the country mark Human Rights Day, a day where we as a country reflect on the rights many fought and died for as well as the progress we’ve made as a society.
It’s a day where roots are firmly linked to the struggle against apartheid. On March 21, 1960, the Pan-African Congress (PAC) organised a mass protest against the Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952, also known as the pass laws.
The pass laws placed restrictions on where black people could live, and forced them to carry a permit/pass at all times to prove they had permission to be in an area. Police could demand to see someone’s pass at any time – and failure to produce one immediately could result in arrest.
To protest the pass laws, PAC members gathered in Sharpeville, Transvaal (now Gauteng) and marched to the local police station, demanding to be arrested.
It’s still unclear what exactly set it all off. All that’s known for certain is that an order to disperse was given which was quickly followed up by the police opening fire on the protesters which included among them men, women and children.
By the time the shooting stopped, 69 people were dead and 180 injured.
The Sharpeville Massacre, as it is now known, is widely considered to be a turning point in the anti-apartheid struggle, one where the apartheid government’s brutal racism was put on full display for the world to see. Not only did it help mobilise resistance at home, it became a key talking point for anti-apartheid activists overseas.
As we mark the anniversary of this tragedy 25 years into democratic rule, we should honour the sacrifices not just of those at Sharpeville, but of everyone who paid the ultimate price so that one day SA could be free.
We must also not allow ourselves to become complacent. Yes, the country has made great progress but we still have a long way to go before the dream of a truly equal SA can be realised.
Too many people remain trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty that prevents them from making full use of the rights they have won. Too many people continue to spread racism and other bigotry either in public or on social media. Too many people have had their dignity stolen by widespread corruption and nepotism.
If we truly want to honour the memories of Sharpeville, we as a country need to come together and work hard to ensure that inequality is stamped out for good so that maybe one day, we can hold our heads up high and walk forward as one.