South Africa marks 50th anniversary of massacre

In 1960, police officers killed 69 black South Africans who protested the pass books that the apartheid government required them to carry.

south africa memorial apartheid massacare sharpville 311 (photo credit: AP)
south africa memorial apartheid massacare sharpville 311
(photo credit: AP)
JOHANNESBURG — Family members of victims raised flowers to the sky and placed them on gravestones Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of the massacre that became a turning point in the anti-apartheid struggle and drew world condemnation.
Mourners sang freedom songs that date back to the struggle against racist white rule. In 1960, police officers killed 69 black South Africans in Sharpeville, where people had gathered to protest the pass books that the apartheid government required them to carry at all times.
South Africa's Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe laid flowers at the memorial Garden of Remembrance on Sunday, and spent time speaking with survivors and family members of massacre victims.
"We say never, never and never again will a government arrogate itself powers of torture, arbitrary imprisonment of opponents and the killing of demonstrators," Motlanthe told a crowd of 5,000 who had gathered at a stadium. "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."
Many though wonder when the change they thought they were fightingfor a half century ago will come to the township of Sharpeville.Residents in recent weeks have set fire to tires in the streets toprotest the lack of basic city services such as electricity and runningwater.
"Our lives started changing with Nelson Mandela'srelease, but people are still financially struggling and finance isstill in white people's hands," said Abram Mofokeng, who was just 21when officers opened fire on protesters in 1960, shooting demonstratorsincluding women and children as they ran away. Mofokeng still bears thescar where a bullet entered his back.
The massacre drew worldcondemnation of the ruthless treatment of South Africa'sdisenfranchised black majority and led the apartheid government tooutlaw the African National Congress party. The country's firstall-race elections were not held until 1994, and the ANC has governedSouth Africa ever since.
Sixteen years after the end ofapartheid, many black South Africans feel that they have not benefitedfrom the economic growth that has made many government and ANCofficials rich.
President Jacob Zuma, a popular figure among thepoor, has promised to speed up delivery of houses, clinics, schools,running water and electricity as well as create jobs. But he also hasacknowledged the difficulties of doing so amid the global recession.
Sunday's50th anniversary of the massacre was largely calm, despite concernsthat commemoration activities could be interrupted with demonstrations.
Somegathered in the streets of Sharpeville and sang of their displeasurewith the ANC, but no violence had erupted. All the day's events havebeen characterized by a heavy police presence, more pronounced thanprevious anniversaries.
"People's lives haven't changed. Thereare so many things we don't have ... a community hall, a sports ground... People are unhappy," said Phillip Makhale, caretaker of thememorial site.
Busisiswe Mbuli, 18, lives with her mother and four siblings in an informal settlement on the edge of Sharpeville.
"There are no school buses in Sharpeville," she said. "We have to walkvery far to go to school, and it is difficult for the little ones."
The floor of the family shack she lives in is bare earth and corrugatediron walls reveal large holes where rain and bitter winter winds cancome through.
"We cannot live in these shelters. They are right next to the tar road,and the gas heating inside the shelter is not safe. And then there arethe toilets. They are the worst," she said.