WE REMEMBER SHARPEVILLE
March 21, 1960 is the date that marked a turning point in our struggle against colonialism and apartheid. Until then, leaders of the liberation movement believed that the settler-colonial regime could be persuaded to abandon its racist and oppressive policies through petition and negotiations.
March 21, 1960 or Sharpeville Day as it is now known in the circles of those who waged a daring fight against the regime, transformed doves into hawks as even the most “reasonable” of leaders in the liberation movement had to accept the harsh reality that talking peace to a regime that responded through brute force was a futile exercise. Speaking in the aftermath of the violence meted on the people of Sharpeville, ANC leader Nelson Mandela said: “There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and non-violence against a government whose reply is only savage attacks on an unarmed and defenceless people.”
Later that year, December 16, 1960, the African National Congress, which had been formed 48 years earlier, launched its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), which was less than a year old, formed its military outfit, POQO. POQO was later named the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA).
But what happened on the day, March 21, 1960? PAC firebrand Mangaliso Sobukwe called a protest against pass laws. In terms of the campaign to be launched on that day, men would leave their passes at home and surrender themselves to the nearest police station. The plan was to render the system of arresting men for not carrying passes unworkable in that the police stations throughout the country would not cope with the number of men who would have demanded to be arrested for refusing to carry passes.
The march on Sharpeville police station by thousands of people turned bloody. The apartheid security forces fired live ammunition on the peaceful protesters, murdering 69 people, including eight women and 10 children.
The Sharpeville massacre clarified to all that there cannot be any peaceful and constructive engagement between the oppressed and the apartheid junta to end apartheid and settler-colonialism.
As the prime architect of the march, Sobukwe was arrested and sent to prison. He served the first year of his prison term at Witbank Prison and was then transferred to Pretoria Prison where he was incarcerated for two years. In 1963 he was taken to Robben Island where he was kept in solitary confinement until his release in 1969. The six years that Sobukwe spent on Robben Island was outside the formal justice system. The apartheid parliament had to pass a special law, allowing his continued imprisonment after he had served his three-year prison term. On his release from Robben Island, Sobukwe was kept under house arrest in Kimberley until his death on February 27, 1978.
The mass killings in the Vaal township of Sharpeville attracted outrage throughout the world. The apartheid regime was exposed for what it was – a blood-thirsty racist and oppressive regime that used brute force to suppress the quest for freedom and liberation of the majority of the Black masses.
South Africa, under the rule of the National Party, became a pariah State. As efforts to isolate the regime intensified, South Africa was suspended from the United Nations. The country was represented by the PAC and the ANC.
After the dawn of democracy, March 21 was rightly recognised as a public holiday. But sadly, the government preferred to name the holiday Human Rights Day and not Sharpeville Day, perhaps erasing in the psyche of the population the horrors that the regime committed on that fateful day.
As we are told that March 21 is Human Rights Day, perhaps it is appropriate to look at the record of the democratic government is terms of ensuring that the human rights of the people are observed. On paper, the country’s Constitution is universally admired as the best constitution in the world. The Constitution has lofty and impressive statements of intent regarding human rights. But what is the lived experience of the majority of South Africans regarding human rights?
The Constitution guarantees human rights such as healthcare services, sufficient food and water and social security. It guarantees dignity and many other human rights.
But the lived experience of many South Africans is different. More than 84 people are murdered in the country each day. Some people are murdered for their cellphones.
And the right to dignity? How can millions of people have dignity when they still live in shacks? How can they have dignity when they still use the bucket system because they do not have toilets? Only last week, another child, a four-year-old lost his life in the Eastern Cape. His body was found in a pit toilet.
As we commemorate Sharpeville Day, we should demand that those in power should translate the ideals of the Constitution into reality. We should remove the temptations that many of the people are even forced to compare life in a democratic order to that of apartheid.
Surely those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Sharpeville should not be betrayed by the current ruling elite. In honouring their memories, the nation should be galvanised to fight the legacies of colonialism and apartheid and end landlessness, poverty, unemployment and gross inequality.
WHY YOU SHOULD VOTE FOR AZAPO
A critic once observed that AZAPO is irrelevant and that is why it is not represented in the parliament and in any of the nine provincial legislatures. He suggested that AZAPO should change its message, modernise and adopt populist policies like other parties in the centre of the political spectrum. He argued that Black Consciousness may have been relevant during the darks days of apartheid but it has outlived its usefulness and its relevance in post-apartheid South Africa and that is why parties that embrace non-racialism tend to attract more voters. The critic based his argument on evidence. Since participating in national elections in 1999, AZAPO has not been able to get more than one seat in the National Assembly. So, according to the critic, whatever AZAPO is saying to the voters, it is not well received by the voters. His advice is change the message.
Our response to the critic is simple and straight forward. If you are a Christian crusader, on a mission to convert souls to Christ and the heavenly kingdom and you preach the gospel but people are not accepting the gospel, you do not change the Bible, or the gospel. Whether they are accepting the gospel or not, the message of the gospel remains.
Before we re-state the message of AZAPO, there is one clarity we should offer the critic. The critic, like many of our detractors confuse our embracing of Black Consciousness for racism. With regard to racism, AZAPO is anti-racist. This is a core principle of AZAPO. For AZAPO, Black is not a matter of pigmentation of one’s skin but a mental attitude. Our founding father, Bantu Biko, clarified this when he stated that the fact that we are not all white does not mean that we are all Black. He spoke of non-whites as a term that described people who may be of African ancestry but whose political outlook is white. These are the people who the young people of today will refer to as coconuts, brown outside and white inside.
To demonstrate our anti-racist character, AZAPO has always had in its ranks people of Indian ancestry and the so-called Coloureds. AZAPO also welcomed the participation of whites in the liberation struggle but pleaded with them to focus their energies in the white community where the problem of racial oppression and land dispossession was being engineered from.
That is the historical background. But if one is a 20-year-old student, starting at university, who believes that he was born after the end of apartheid, why should this person vote for AZAPO?
For all his adult life, this young person has lived the rule of the current government. He has seen the country deteriorating in terms of providing services such as electricity and water. He watches on television as the health ombudsman paints a horror picture at Rosina Moosa Hospital where patients are forced to sleep on the floor. The common news that he hears is that the Black dominated government has perfected the art of stealing public resources. He sees some white-led NGOs taking the government to court to force the government to provide books for Black children in the townships and villages. He hears that AZAPO is a liberation movement that was in the trenches with the current ruling party. He asks himself, why must he vote AZAPO?
This is why he must vote for AZAPO:
- Under an AZAPO government, education will be free. Students will not have to waste learning time, burning tyres to demand an end to financial exclusion.
- In the short term, AZAPO will create employment for hundreds of thousands for the youth by ending the job freeze in the public service.
- In the long term, AZAPO will end the tendering system for the employment of cleaners, security guards and other support services. These people will be given permanent jobs in the State with all employee benefits such as pension and housing allowances.
- An AZAPO government will support local manufacturers, local farmers and protect them against cheap imports, thus creating millions of jobs in the domestic economy.
- An AZAPO government will establish industrial nodes focusing on different industries such as motor industry and technology to support local inventions and create markets for these industrialists, a plan that will unlock growth potential for the economy, focusing on job creation.
- AZAPO will restore the hope of young people in the country and end the emigration of highly trained professionals because of economic stagnation.
AZAPO has a vision for the country as a whole, not just for young people. Some of these are the following:
- AZAPO’s historic mission is to restore the dignity of the Black person.
- The attainment of State power is the means towards the restoration of Black dignity.
- Using the State as a tool, an AZAPO government will dismantle the colonial architecture of the economic and socio-political system of the country.
- Using the State as a tool, an AZAPO government will take back the land from the European settlers and their descendants and put it under the custody of the State but distribute the land to the landless as per their economic and social needs.
- An AZAPO government will establish a housing parastatal as part of the plan to eradicate informal settlements.
- An AZAPO government will end provincial governments and strengthen local governments as these are central to effective service delivery such as water and electricity.
- An AZAPO government will nationalise all natural resources such as mines to ensure that revenues from national assets are used for the benefits of all the people in the country and not just for the few.
Our movement may have been established in the late 1960s by a group of students such as Biko, Ranwedzi Nengwekhulu and Mosibudi Mangena but it was a continuation of the anti-colonial struggle that was waged by our forefathers who resisted colonial conquest of the British, Dutch and Portuguese invaders. Our forebears lost the war against the colonialists and AZAPO is continuing that war. In order to survive, colonialism has had to adapt by co-opting elements from the revolutionary movement.
The historic mission of AZAPO include the provision of a clear vision to isolate agents of colonialism and imperialism who pose as leaders of the African revolution. This message cannot be changed, regardless of how it is received. There is no alternative to the truth. And AZAPO is the truth. AZAPO is the real hope of Black people.