Sharpville Massacre 1960 – How It Began

This is the call the African people have been waiting for! It has come! On Monday, 21st March 1960, we launch our positive, decisive campaign against the pass laws in this our country.” Thus spoke Mangaliso Sobukwe, three days before Sharpeville. South Africa had started a new phase in her history.

Three days later the Pan-Africanist Leaders started their non-violent campaign to reverse apartheid Mangaliso Sobukwe made his intention clear in a letter to the Commissioner of Police: “I have give strict instruction,” he said, “not only to members of my own organization but also to the African people in general, that they should not allow themselves to be provoked into violent action by anyone.”

And so, on the appointed day, monday, March 21, thousands of Pan-Africanist reported to the police without their passes and asked to be arrested. Their object was to demostrate the force of organised non-violence. They wanted to make the pass laws unworkable as a first step in a long campaign to achieve “freedom and independence” for Africans by 1963.

The police were taken unawares by the crowds of volunteers who asked to be arrested. In some places the leaders were detained, in others they were persuaded to return home. Everything went according to plan, and then, at Sharpeville, tragedy occured.

It was officially announced that 67 Africans were killed and 186 wounded, after the police had opened fire on the crowd. On the same day a riot took place at Langa location near Cape Town, where another crowd of Africans, estimated at 20 000 assembled at police stations to give themselves up for arrest. The police failed to dispense the crowd by baton charges, and the crowd began to throw stones. The police opened fire and 54 people were injured.

Though it was PAC that took the lead in the anti-pass law campaign, it was Chief Luthuli of ANC who called on Africans to observe March 28 as a day of Mourning. PAC leaders supported this move, and Africans responded with unanimity.

After the people’s protest, after the Sharpeville killings, after 20 000 people had been detained, after 156 days of nightmare, the Government closed another chapter in our Country’s history. There was to be no change. Apartheid and baaskap were here to stay.

Story taken from Drum October 1960