ANC has finally hijacked Sharpeville

2012-03-22 15:12

Isaac Mangena

Taking the commemorations of the Sharpeville massacre from its historic base is nothing less than an insult to those who laid down their lives.

For the past 21 years, Sharpeville Day (now Human Rights Day) was celebrated in Sharpeville – the place where 69 black demonstrators lost their lives fighting for the freedoms and liberties we enjoy today.

Their lives changed that Monday morning of March 21 1960 when the apartheid security police opened fire on innocent people protesting against the carrying of passes.

Since the ANC came to power in 1994, the day has always been commemorated across the country as Human Rights Day.

But the main event has always been held at Phelindaba cemetery, where the 69 bodies are buried and where the Sharpeville Memorial Garden was erected.

This is also where the president and other senior government officials would address the main celebrations of the day.

But with this year’s commemoration, the ANC government decided to break this tradition, and took the event to Kliptown in Soweto.

As we now know, the move sparked unnecessary riots in Sharpeville by the locals who feel, and rightfully so, hard done-by the ANC government. They lament the fact that it’s their ancestors, their brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers who died in Sharpeville.

Residents say they were never told about this setup (to stage the event in Kliptown), and knowing the ANC government and how the e-tolls were imposed on the poor, I believe the Sharpeville residents.

The event, for the past 21 years had been a source of income for the locals, in different ways, and it’s a ritual for these people whose families paid dearly on that fateful day.

The question is: Should we be surprised by the actions of President Jacob Zuma’s government? Not at all.
Signs have always been there. The ANC has for many years wanted to steal this event from those who led it 52 years ago.

For those who have forgotten, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) – which had broken away from the ANC two years earlier – decided to lead the protest against pass laws, the linchpin of the apartheid system.

After intensified door-to-door campaigning a few days before the day, PAC founder Robert Sobukwe called a press conference on March 18 to announce that the Africanist congress would launch the first phase of its unfolding programme for the liberation of South Africa on Monday of March 21 1960.

“The door-to-door campaign was reinforced with a call on all pass-carrying African men to leave their passes at home, march to police stations nearest to them and demand to be arrested for refusing to carry a pass,” wrote journalist David Sibeko in Sunday Nation in 1976, from exile in Nairobi, Kenya.

But, as expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema ranted during the celebrations last year when he accused the PAC of stealing the moment from his party, the governing ANC had planned similar resistance against pass laws in early April, mobilising through door-to-door campaigns, among others.

The ANC claims the PAC then decided to take their shine, and organised its own protests 10 days earlier on March 21, leading to the bloodshed that is now the Sharpeville massacre.

“The Sharpeville massacre must be properly located in the struggle as led by the ANC, of course admitting to the bloody opportunism that the PAC is. Consequently, the ANC owes the PAC no political elevation,” Malema wrote.

With the PAC almost non-existent, the ANC decided to act like a thief at night, stealing the celebration and taking it to its favoured historical commemorations venue, Soweto.

What the ANC did, in fact, was to take the spark away from the Sharpeville massacre a long time ago by ensuring that it was under-marketed and to ensure that it loses its relevance in comparison to the likes of June 16 (Youth Day) or other liberation commemorations.

So one cannot expect the ANC to fund a celebration that is clearly not its own. And to do so, it would be like asking Zuma’s government to fund the commemoration of the Voortrekkers’ Geloftedag (Day of the Vow).

Even the erection of the Sharpeville memorial site was done after many years of lobbying by the families of those who had died.

One is tempted to then ask: Is Human Rights Day an ANC event? I don’t think so. The event is supposed to be a national event celebrated by all South Africans.

But most importantly, just like the Battle of Isandlwana and other heroic dates we celebrate, it should serve to remember those who died, where they died.

Imagine taking the main celebrations of the Battle of Isandlwana, which happened in Zululand (now KwaZulu-Natal), and commemorate it in Mapungubwe, Limpopo.

 And why is everything related to liberation supposed to be in Soweto?

I think by moving this commemoration from Sharpeville, the ANC has insulted not only those who died on that day, but also many others who laid down their lives in the fight against apartheid.

But then again, I guess my colleague Lloyd Coutts was right when he remarked: “The first rule of history is that it’s made by the victor. The ANC can make all the rule it wants.”

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