On this day in 1960, the Sharpeville massacre saw 69 people killed by police in South Africa, an event repeated on the 25th anniversary of the event in Langa where police killed between 20 and 40 demonstrators.
On the 21st of March 1960, between 5000 and 7000 protesters gathered in Sharpeville in the Transvaal in response to proposed ‘pass laws’ being introduced by the apartheid state. Pass laws were created in an attempt to control the movements of Africans under apartheid, evolving from regulations imposed by the Dutch and British in preceding centuries in their control of a slave economy of the Cape Colony. Pass laws sought to enforce the segregation of races and prevent blacks from entering white areas, requiring nonwhites to carry passes which authorised their presence in restricted areas.
The Pan African Congress (a splinter group of the African National Congress) organised countrywide demonstrations, encouraging participants to surrender their passes and submit to arrest. After gathering around the police station in Sharpeville, police claimed that protesters began to stone them and their vehicles, prompting officers to open fire on the crowds. 69 protesters were killed with over 180 injured in the firing. A state of emergency was imminently called in South Africa with over 11000 detained and the ANC and PAC outlawed.
In 1985, 25 years after the Sharpeville massacre, police in Langa opened fire at a mass funeral service held in a township in Langa which had been commemorating those who died at Sharpeville. With 80000 blacks in attendance, the event had been banned, the appropriate response by the police deemed to be shooting the crowds, killing between 20 and 40 people in a grim repetition of history.
The events at Sharpeville have been described as a turning point in the anti-apartheid movement, drawing international criticism as to the actions of police, as well as sparking domestic outrage. The ANC saw a shift to adopting more militant techniques from the 1950s, reflecting a disillusionment with perceived failures of the original emphasis on non-violent campaigns. Indeed the significance of the events at Sharpeville were considerable enough that Mandela chose to sign into law the country’s new constitution in 1996 at Sharpeville.