South Africa commemorates Sharpeville Massacre

South Africans have marked the 50th anniversary of the Sharpeville
Massacre, a turning point in the nation’s liberation struggle.

Sixty-nine
people died on 21 March 1960 when police gunned down unarmed people protesting
against apartheid laws.

The dead were
honoured as part of Human Rights Day, with church services, the laying of
wreaths, and a speech by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

Critics say
people in the township still face poor living conditions.

People
gathered at the Roman Catholic church in Sharpeville, and laid wreaths at the
cemetery on the graves of those killed in the massacre.

Mr Motlanthe
spoke to survivors and relatives of the victims at the Garden of Remembrance.

Later
addressing a crowd of about 5,000, he said: “We say never, never and never
again will a government arrogate itself powers of torture, arbitrary
imprisonment of opponents and the killing of demonstrators.”

“In the
same breath, we state that our democratic government undertakes to never ignore
the plight of the poor, those without shelter, those without means to an
education and those suffering from abuse and neglect,” he was quoted by
the Associated Press as saying.

Defining
moment

The Sharpeville
Massacre is remembered as one of the bloodiest moments of the liberation
struggle, the BBC’s Karen Allen reports from Johannesburg.

Fifty years
ago, South African police opened fire on demonstrators in Sharpeville township,
50km (30 miles) south of Johannesburg.

Sixty-nine
people died and at least 180 were injured – many shot in the back as they were
trying to flee the scene.

They had
gathered outside the police station to protest against pass laws, which
required all blacks to carry identity documents – known as pass books – at all
times.

No police were
ever convicted over the killings.

The
Sharpeville massacre led to the banning of the African National Congress (ANC)
and its rival liberation movement, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), and
signalled the start of the underground armed resistance in South Africa.

Today, many in
the township are disappointed that the ANC has failed to improve their lives
since it came to power, our correspondent says.

Many of the
shops in Sharpeville have closed down, unemployment persists and there is a
sense among some residents that basic public services are inadequate.

“Our
lives started changing with Nelson Mandela’s release, but people are still
financially struggling and finance is still in white people’s hands,”
Abram Mofokeng told Associated Press news agency.

He was 21 when
the massacre took place.

In recent
weeks the ANC has faced protests from other communities in South Africa, who
fear that cronyism and corruption have overshadowed the party’s agenda.

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