22 Mar 2010

South Africa remembers the Sharpeville massacre

8:58 pm on 22 March 2010

South Africans have commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre, a tragedy that triggered worldwide protest against the apartheid system.

Sixty-nine people died on 21 March 1960 when police gunned down unarmed people protesting against apartheid laws. At least 180 were injured - many shot in the back trying to flee the scene.

They had gathered outside the police station to protest against pass laws requiring all blacks to carry identity documents - known as pass books - at all times.

The dead have been honoured as part of Human Rights Day, with church services, the laying of wreaths, and a speech by deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe.

Never again, says deputy president

Addressing a crowd of about 5000, Mr Motlanthe said: "We say never, never and never again will a government arrogate itself powers of torture, arbitrary imprisonment of opponents and the killing of demonstrators.

"In the same breath, we state that our democratic government undertakes to never ignore the plight of the poor, those without shelter, those without means to an education and those suffering from abuse and neglect."

The massacre led to the banning of the African National Congress (ANC) and its rival liberation movement, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), and signalled the start of the underground armed resistance in South Africa. No police were ever convicted over the killings.

For some, things are little better

Today, the BBC reports, many in the township are disappointed that the ANC has failed to improve their lives since it came to power in 1994.

Many of the shops in Sharpeville have closed down, unemployment persists and there is a sense among some residents that basic public services are inadequate.

"Our lives started changing with Nelson Mandela's release, but people are still financially struggling and finance is still in white people's hands," Abram Mofokeng - 21 when the massacre took place - was quoted as telling the Associated Press news agency.

In recent weeks the ANC has faced protests from other communities in South Africa, who fear that cronyism and corruption have overshadowed the party's agenda.