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Social sciences


Grade 9

South africa from 1948 to 2000: nationalism

Module 6

Reactions to the sharpeville incident of 1960

Activity 1:

Reactions to the sharpeville incident of 1960


Township near Vereeniging in the Southern Transvaal where on 21 March 1960 police panicked and opened fire on a crowd of Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) anti-pass law demonstrators. Sixty-nine blacks were killed and 180 were injured. The shooting was universally condemned. A week later, the PAC and African National Congress were banned and a state of emergency was declared. The crisis led to an outflow of both capital and skills, and to further international pressure on South Africa to change its apartheid policy, but after a moment of indecision the government continued on the same road. Sharpeville remained a symbol of the brute force which lay behind apartheid.

(C.C. Sanders: An Illustrated Dictionary of South African History, 1994)

SOURCE B: The Government’s Response in Parliament

Dr Verwoerd gave Parliament details of the disorders. He said that some 2 000 Africans demonstrated by entering people’s homes and forcibly removing identity books.

The crowd gradually grew until there were some 20 000. Telephone wires were cut and disturbances occurred. The police had to open fire and 25 people were killed and 50 wounded. Dr Verwoerd said these facts and figures were provisional.

(Quoted in: Cape Times, Tuesday, 22 March 1960)

SOURCE C: Secondary Source – 500 jaar, CFJ Muller (1987)

According to Robert Sobukwe it would merely be the beginning of a resistance campaign which had to increase in force to such an extent that the PAC would be able to take over the government of the country within three years.

On orders of the PAC groups of Africans in various parts of the country burnt their passes on 21 March 1960 and then marched to the nearest police station asking to be arrested. In most residential areas the protest campaign was peaceful and the police either arrested the

participating Africans or ordered them to leave. In Sharpeville near Vereeniging and in Langa near Cape Town, the protest campaign however led to bloodshed.

In Sharpeville about 10 000 Africans converged on the police station. The police felt threatened and opened fire with machine guns. The crowd scattered. The shooting left 69 dead and 198 wounded. The post-mortem showed that most of those who died from bullet wounds, had been shot from behind, in other words, whilst they were already fleeing.


A statement by Mr van Rhyn, South African High Commissioner in London, after the shooting (Shooting in Sharpeville: The Agony of South Africa, Gollancz, London)

According to factual information now available, the disturbances at Sharpeville on Monday resulted from a planned demonstration of about 20 000 natives during which demonstrators attacked the Police with assorted weapons, including firearms. The demonstrators shot first, and the Police were forced to fire in self-defence to avoid even more tragic results. The allegation of the United Nations Afro-Asian groups, in requesting a Security Council meeting, that the demonstrators were unarmed and peaceful is therefore completely untrue…

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Source:  OpenStax, History grade 9. OpenStax CNX. Sep 14, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11063/1.1
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