The ANC regime’s rise to power is a story of violence, chaos and mayhem, propped up on the “higher moral ground” of the struggle against apartheid. This is the evil cow that we milk today, Human Rights day, 21st March 2010, and which will dutifully be milked annually, for all it’s worth, into perpetuity.
Today is the day of the incident at Sharpeville on March 21 1960.
The facts are well recorded. A group of between 5,000 and 7,000 people converged on the local police station in the township of Sharpeville, offering themselves up for arrest for not carrying their pass books. This was part of a broader campaign organized by the PAC. The story is told of how this “defenceless” crowd was allowed closer and closer to the police station, whereupon the racist Boer police opened fire, killing 67 in cold blood.
What is not, however, often told is that there is evidence that the PAC used intimidating means to draw the crowd to the protest, including the cutting of telephone lines into Sharpeville, the distribution of pamphlets telling people not to go to work on the day, and coercion of bus drivers.
In the preceding hours to the shooting incident, the field was left open for poorly trained community leaders and marshals in ‘task teams’ whose primary purpose was to stir up the mob, and who were then either unable or unwilling to steer the crowd away from what was clearly fast becoming a cataclysmic situation.
Remember too, that there were only 294 policemen – 156 white and 138 black – inside the fenced-in police compound at Sharpeville that Monday. Some in the crowd were also heavily armed with either pistols or rifles which they had every intention of using should the opportunity present itself.
This had been confirmed by police reinforcements making their way from the periphery of the crowd into the police station and who had heard (but not actually seen) shots fired and had also been stoned on their way in.
The white police also convinced themselves that they faced a far more sinister, internal threat: That their black colleagues inside the station could not be trusted. Who can blame them? Outnumbered by jeering, taunting crowds outside (some carrying weapons) and the simple fact of a racial link between the black police in the station and the crowd outside, it was sufficient to convince them that they faced a dual threat. And apart from anything else the crowd included a criminal element as well (does May 2008 ring any bells here?)
Add to this brewing pot the massacre that had occurred at Cato Manor in Durban some 8 weeks before (23 January 1960) in which an angry mob attacked 4 white and 5 black policemen at the Cato Manor Police station. They butchered the men and mutilated the bodies. The mutilated bodies, with genitals stuffed in their mouths, were then dragged through the streets by the mob. One Sharpeville protester is quoted as saying “We took great delight in shouting ‘Cato Manor’ - because we knew it would disturb the Boers,”
Of course, the fact of the Sharpeville shooting is not justified, but far from being the racial monsters that popular mythology has painted the policemen with, they were frightened out of their wits. Popular mythologists also makes much of the fact that most of the protesters were shot in the back.
Instead of confirming their case, it negates it. It is clearly an indication that the police were shooting in a panic, taunted to breaking point by a crazed mob, in the full knowledge of the Cato Manor massacre just a few weeks before, and egged on by the PAC mob leaders. When the breaking point was reached, it simply led to an uncontrolled outburst of fire, the final act of blind defence.
It is through incidents such as this that the ANC came to power. The herding of innocent people to a certain death. The decades that were to follow were also characterised by similar incidents, such as the 7 September 1992 march on the border of Ciskei against the military government of Brigadier Joshua Gqozo demanding the re-absorbtion of the so-called black homeland into South Africa.
This march was orchestrated by none other than Cyril Ramaphosa and led to the entirely foreseeable and avoidable deaths of twenty four people. The events are chillingly similar to those of Sharpeville. According to a BBC report :
The march, led by ANC secretary-general Cyril Ramaphosa and attended by 50,000 people - began at a stadium in King William's Town, and then headed towards the Ciskeian capital of Bisho.
Brigadier Gqozo had warned he would meet force with even greater force, and his troops and police were on standby at the border. When the demonstrators tried to cross into Ciskei, soldiers opened fire and continued firing indiscriminately into the crowd for about five minutes.
After two volleys of machine gun fire, the troops also fired rifle grenades into the gathering, spreading fear and panic among the protesters. It has been reported that four young men were shot in the back as they attempted to run away from the firing.
A statement from Brigadier Gqozo said that his soldiers had been fired upon first and their action was in self-defence.
But a statement from the ANC denied the claims, saying the first shots were fired by the troops.
"At no time were the lives of the Ciskeian troops in danger... No warning was issued, and no attempts were made to disperse the crowd using non-lethal means," it said.
The South African foreign minister, Pik Botha, said that the ANC knew the march would end in violence.
"They knew people would be shot - they wanted people to be shot," he said in a TV interview.
The history of South African violence is complex, and many issues have not been dealt with such as the ubiquitous black on black method of killing known as “necklacing” which has largely been ignored by the world. But it is too easy for those that do indeed bear a burden of guilt, to continue to evade squaring up to that responsibility, and lay it all at the foot of apartheid.
South Africa will never heal and this inability to square up to responsibility is simply going to be a festering wound in those that continue to regard themselves as the losers and the victims, when they should be the ones, such as “petrol and matches” Winnie Mandela, who should be begging for forgiveness.
To take it’s rightful place in history, Sharpeville should be de-mythologized and recognised for what it was: A tragic example of what can happen when neither protesters nor police have put in place the means with which to deal with crowd control.
Summary based on the book "Sharpeville, an ordinary atrocity" by professor Philip Frankel
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