March 21 about more than just Sharpeville

2012-03-24 09:02

It was most unfortunate that the people of Sharpeville this week decided to riot in the streets of the township to register their disapproval of Human Rights Day, commonly known as Sharpeville Day, being held in Soweto and not in their township as was always the case in the past.

Nobody contests that, although the anti-dompas campaign of March 21 1960 was a national event, it was the people of Sharpeville who on that day demonstrated apartheid’s brutality to the world by sacrificing 69 lives to the struggle for human rights and dignity for all.

But to assume that because of this Sharpeville should have a monopoly on the commemoration of the event, is misplaced.

It would be an affront to the memory of those who died because they did not die for the people of Sharpeville, but for the human dignity of all South Africans.

Sharpeville was part of a national liberation project. The commemoration of this tragic event should therefore not be seen as the exclusive preserve of the people of that Vaal township any more than June 16 should be the sole domain of the people of Soweto.

The mass murder of the people of Langa in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape in 1985 who were commemorating Sharpeville also illustrates why March 21 should not be an exclusively Sharpeville incident.

Making Human Rights Day a Sharpeville-specific event creates a false impression and gives undue superiority to local communities who might think they have paid a greater price than those in communities which do not have specific calendar days commemorating their contribution to the struggle against apartheid.

It is ahistorical because it isolates local battles against apartheid and colonialism and reduces them to meaningless local skirmishes not seen as part of the greater resistance to the colonisers and oppressors’ national project of subjugation.

The assertion that South Africa belongs to all who live in it must mean that all South Africans are entitled to mourn and celebrate pieces of our history regardless of which corner of our land was the epicentre of the event.

If we made Sharpeville about the people of Sharpeville, we would have missed the point of the glorious battles fought against apartheid here at home and abroad.

The anger in Sharpeville should not be dismissed as pointless, but rather located in the growing feeling by many communities and individuals who feel their contribution and those of luminaries such as Robert Sobukwe and Steve Biko is ignored or airbrushed out of history because they did not wage the struggle under the banner of the governing party.

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