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Motalatale S. Modiba
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Potential for another Sharpville massacre

21 March 2012, 18:36

It was the wise king Solomon who upon sober reflection concluded that there is nothing new under the sun.

Like Solomon I found myself in deep thought in the wee hours of this morning. I am not sure if I can call this ‘sober reflection’. The truth is I was dragged into this thoughtful mode by a running tummy.

Given the political and historical significance of this day, March 21, it was only logical that I ponder upon it especially in the light of what Solomon said.

Admittedly I was far from being born let along being conceived when the Sharpville massacre of 1960 took place. I am grateful for a variety of sources that bear witness to the bravery at which South Africans from all walks of life confronted the barbaric and unjust system that sought to deny my people the right to exercise their basic human rights.

I am also forever indebted to the 69 people who lost their lives on that fateful day, and many others who suffered a similar fate at various parts of the country. I owe it to them and to the generation after me to ensure that South Africa does not find itself in that cul-de-sac again.

Simplified, the 1960 protest was against pass laws which required indigenous African males to carry in their persons a dompas at all times. But the protestation was more than that. 

Black people’s movement was restricted to designated areas and only at specific times, they had controlled or no access to economic opportunities and they were locked into what I call ‘statutory, institutional and spacial’ poverty. This led to a situation where black people found themselves suffocating in overpopulated areas with limited resources instigating black on black violence as people started fighting for the scarce pecuniary means.

Indeed we have come a long way. But I feel that perhaps, the threat to our human rights is even greater today.  Just as Solomon warned that there is nothing new under the sun, underlying the socio-economic conditions that many people find themselves in are the same factors that were ingeniously entrenched by the apartheid regime through the dompass laws.

High poverty levels remain a challenge, unemployment is a sore point and access to economic opportunities is still restricted to a large degree. The gap between the haves and have not is not growing any smaller. The high presence of informal settlements means that people are still trapped in ‘spacial’ poverty leading to an overcrowding in places that are perceived to hold some economic hope like Gauteng.

The not so long ago xenophobic attacks that erupted in various parts of the country were but a cold reminder that there is a direct relation between human rights and access to pecuniary means.

Unless as a country we take heed to double our efforts to increase access to economic opportunities by the majority of people, to dramatically reduce poverty and unemployment levels and bridge the wide gap between the haves and have not, I am afraid another Sharpville massacre is not a misplaced possibility.  

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