On 21 Mach 1960, thousands of oppressed South Africans marched to the Sharpeville Police Station. They got together in peaceful defiance, refusing to carry the dreaded and abhorrent pass book. They sang songs of freedom, punctuating them with impassioned shouts of Down with passes!

Black people were relegated to a space where apartheid laws constrained almost every facet of their lives.
One of the most racist laws were the pass laws, which compelled every black person to carry a pass at all times. The pass laws were in force before the introduction of apartheid, but under apartheid, the laws became excessively harsh and severe. The apartheid regime utilised the pass laws to control every movement of the black population, imposing restrictions on where they could work and live.

In a book written by Tom Lodge, Sharpeville: An Apartheid Massacre and its Consequences, Simon Mkutau, who took part in the protest, recalled: “The atmosphere was cheerful, people were happy, singing and dancing.”

As the day progressed, more police were brought in, accompanied by an ever-increasing number of armoured cars. It did not end there. Military jets were seen flying overhead. Without warning, the police opened fire on the protestors.

Sixty-nine people were killed and more than 180 were injured – most of them shot in the back as they fled the carnage.

A report that was produced after the massacre revealed the police fired more than 700 bullets. (Venter, Sahm, Exploring Our National Days: Human Rights Day 21 March). Following the bloody murderous act, several witnesses maintained they spotted police placing weapons in the hands of the deceased – to make it look like they had arrived carrying weapons and were aggressive.

Others spoke about the police who were seen mocking injured protestors. Yet other survivors went as far as professing that the police executed some of the injured as they lay on the ground bleeding.

In some cases, the police were said to have followed ambulances as they took the victims to hospital, arrested them and took them to prison.

In Sharpeville: An Apartheid Massacre and its Consequences, Tom Lodge writes that in other cases, the police waited until victims had healed to some degree, then arrested them.

Today, the Sharpeville Massacre is in congruously named Human Rights Day… a misnomer of note.
It is a deficiency of consciousness to refer to this day as Human Rights Day as it tends to obscure the savagery and heartlessness of the racist regime. It plays into the hands of denialists and apartheid apologists who have a hearty desire to erase this day and other acts of brutality from our memories.

It also pushes us into a space where we are slowly stripped of the ability to fully grasp the significance of this day in the struggle against apartheid and colonialism. It deprives it of its capacity to continuously keep us mindful and remember the hefty price that was paid by our forebears in the war for emancipation.

It is sadistic and absolutely scandalous to be celebrating Human Rights Day when our country constantly tops the global charts with its gloomy socio-economic standing. Inequality in Southern Africa, the latest report by the World Bank, concludes that the pain-soaked rainbow nation still holds the unenviable spot as the world’s most unequal country.

It is an insult to those who lost life and limbs to celebrate Human Rights Day when equality remains a rumour. This disingenuity is lamentable and stands as the real reason for a mass of social ills, such as high-levels of violent demonstrations, ever-rising rates of unemployment, widespread crime and a large number of citizens who are getting extremely hungry, inadequately and ill-educated, every day.

There is nothing in the report that comes as a shock for such a terrible state of affairs. It is further revelation of the dismal performance of the ANC as the governing party for the past 28 years. Failure to improve the socio-economic conditions of millions of South Africans is failure by the state to respect human rights. It is also an indictment of the ANC’s misrule and sub-standard governance.

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