National Assembly: 16 March 2010
'SHARPEVILLE: A BRIEF RECOLLECTION'
In recognition of the indivisibility of the
fundamental rights of peoples everywhere, I beg for yours and the
House's indulgence to take your memory back to where the journey
We lived in the L-shaped corrugated iron
house well and spaciously built both by my father who worked as a
driver and furniture polisher at a furnisher dealer in Vereeniging
and my grandfather, a commendable carpenter in our locality. 'Vukuzenzele'
popularly known as Vuka was a newly established extension of
Sharpeville Township. It was an area designated for black families
who were forcefully removed from Top Location where they held free
hold title deeds to make way for white residential areas and
Both by father and my grandfather, in my
presence, frequently indulged in politics. I often observed
consistent gatherings at the nearby blacksmith where my grandfather
and Mr Phakathi (the blacksmith) would be reading and at the same
time interpreting the daily political bulletins to their audience of
coal merchants and vehicle owners who had come to give their horses
'new shoes' and their vehicles renewed sets of spring shock
absorbers. The question that often triggered the excitement amongst
them was always "Unthini u Verwoerd namhlanje?" (What is Verwoerd
saying today?) Followed by "kodwa um Afrika yena uthi" (but the
African is saying this).
The political discussion usually took most
part of the day. I knew this because my older brother worked for the
blacksmith and I was always welcomed to run errands for my
This was one of the many formative occasions
when I learned about Dr. Verwoerd and his people and that they were
largely responsible for the laws that made the African people - men,
women and children - suffer. I must say that at the age of 13, I was
being initiated in the 'collective historical consciousness of the
African political thinking'. The afternoon and night of the 20th
March 1960 revealed nothing suspicious for me. Moreover, at that
tender age I could not clearly have imagined or let alone predicted
the political fortunes of a township about to be engulfed by human
tragedy, characterised by dead and maimed people, tears, fears and
The dark early hours of the morning of the
21st saw widespread calls through loud hailers, thousands of
pamphlets in the streets urging the people of Sharpeville not to go
to work on that day, but to converge at the central police station
to protest against the carrying of passes and if need be, burn them
in full glare of the authorities. Obviously schoolteachers were not
going to teach that day and so school children took that opportunity
to give themselves a break from school. Later that morning some of
us joined our old folks at the Sharpeville central police station.
When the day progressed, the protesting
crowd around the police station began to swell enormously in numbers
and with thumbs raised high, a resemblance of the shape of the
African continent, chanted loudly "iAfrika Mayibuye".
From where I stood I could spot the
occasional movement of the African negotiators in and out of the
front office of the police station and every time they made an
appearance, they would raise their thumbs high shouting "iAfrika"
and the crowd would echo "Mayibuye". By that time a heavily armed
contingency of police was prowling inside the station yard and more
were arriving in police trucks and Saracens. Meanwhile the attempts
by the people's negotiators led by the late Nyakane Tsolo, who I had
the pleasure of meeting a few years ago before he died, continued as
previously followed by the chants "Mayibuye".
It was past the lunch hour when rumblings
took the rounds that police officials wanted people to move away
from the police station and gather at the nearby sports field, now
known as George Thabe Stadium, about 2km away.
The people made no movement in that
direction and what happened next made me believe that had the people
moved towards that sports field, many more people would have been
maimed and more killed.
First, it was the shattering sound of one
shot then silence. The chanting stopped abruptly and was immediately
followed by rapid gunfire, waves of protesters stampeded away from
the fence and gates of the police station as the firing became
fierce. This time it sounded more like a combination of rifles and
machine gun fire. I could not see what was exactly happening behind
me because like everybody else, I was running away from the police
station as fast as I could. The gunfire was both frightening and
confusing and there was an instant where I rushed through a gate
into a yard frantically looking for sanctuary only to jump over the
fence back into the street again where droves of people were running
away. I remember vividly the image of a man running past me, his
bloody hand clutching his left shoulder as if preventing his whole
arm from falling off and the back of his overalls soaked in blood.
The man had been shot. Frightened as I was, ironically I heard him
say, 'ngiyitholile iAfrika yami' (I found my Africa).
It did not take long to reach home where I
became more frightened when I did not see my father or grandfather.
When the shooting stopped, it began to rain hard, perhaps God's way
of washing away the blood and tears of His fallen people behind me.
My folks came back unharmed, but without the car which was fetched
later from the police station. (It was later discovered that the
bullet that went through the right mudguard of my father's car
shattered the hipbone of the woman who was standing next to it. The
car can be seen in some pictures taken on that day).
This serves also as a plea from my party,
the IFP, to the President of the Republic that the constant failure
to deliver the basic rights timeously to the deserving majority is a
reflection on the defective manner in which we have governed and we
need a radical reappraisal of this, and to neglect the plight of
Sharpeville will be seen as the ultimate betrayal of the embodiment
of the long struggle of the African people for true freedom and
The freedom struggle of the black people of
South Africa marshalled ample cosmic companionship to decry the
violation of human rights in the world.
Yet today, we stand at the brink of being
accused ourselves of failure to fulfil the fundamental freedoms of
our own people.
Mr Ben Skosana MP
082 887 2779
Liezl van der Merwe
082 729 2510