Sharpeville. If one word epitomises the history of the South African people’s struggle against malign power, then it is the name of this small township south of Johannesburg.
It was in 1960, on March 21, that white police officers opened fire with sten guns on an unarmed crowd of some 5,000 black protesters who were offering themselves up for arrest following an extension of the Pass Laws to include women.
69 people were killed, most shot in the back as they fled.
A lot has happened since then: there is now a black majority government that rules South Africa, instead of a white minority. The white racists who once invented and codified Apartheid twitter on the periphery of political power.
Yet on February 23, 2010, South African police once again opened fire on residents of Sharpeville who were protesting their lot.
The Pass Laws and Apartheid are history, but the living conditions of people in the townships continues to be dire. Yet despite the plethora of ‘service delivery protests’ that occur throughout the country; this was a protest of a different kind.
The protest was primarily against corruption within the local municipality, and very little of the opportunities afforded other former black townships being afforded to them. The prolonged lack of delivery of sanitation, electricity and decent housing has kept tempers simmering.
Some within the ruling African National Congress say that the protests are the work of ambitious ANC members trying to usurp the incumbents for their turn at the trough.
That might explain the ferocity with which the police fired on protesters and even non-protesting residents in their yards and on the streets. At least three women, including a schoolgirl, were injured police firing rubber bullets and shotgun rounds (pellets) at close range. A dozen or so were arrested, including a citizen who was filming events on his cell phone. What crime did he commit, I wonder?
What I find particularly odd is that publications who had journalists on the scene quote police spokespersons about a policeman and a bus passenger injured by stone-throwing protesters yet do not mention the people shot and wounded by police in what appeared to me to be excessive use of their mandate. Their photographers documented some of these incidents. Bizarre.
The Times (a part of the Sunday Times) http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/article323090.ece
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fortunately one newspaper, The Star, does mention people injured by police and better yet gives context to the protests and riots.
To me it was tough to tell the difference between Apartheid policing in the Eighties and Nineties and what I saw in Sharpeville last week. Yet then as now, the media, with one shining exception, reports what the police tell them, mostly without any critical analysis or questioning.
As in 1960, many women and children were among the injured.
PS to see COLOUR images and great sound, please see Leonie’s multimedia piece at http://vimeo.com/9911315