South Africa marks 50th anniversary of massacre

2010-03-21 09:53

More than 100 South Africans laid wreaths on gravestones today to

mark the 50th anniversary of the massacre that became a turning point in the

anti-apartheid struggle and drew world condemnation of the racist


But survivors of the massacre here are tired of telling their

stories: They are wondering when the change they thought they were fighting for

a half century ago will come to Sharpeville.

Residents in recent weeks have set fire to tires in the streets to

protest the lack of basic city services such as electricity and running


“Our lives started changing with Nelson Mandela’s release, but

people are still financially struggling and finance is still in white people’s

hands,” said Abram Mofokeng, who was just 21 when officers opened fire on

protesters in 1960, shooting demonstrators including women and children as they

ran away. Mofokeng still bears the scar where a bullet entered his back.

Local residents said that Sunday’s 50th anniversary of the massacre

would be calm, despite concerns that commemoration activities could be

interrupted with demonstrations.

Police officers massacred 69 black South Africans in the township

of Sharpeville, where protesters had burned the passbooks that the white-led

apartheid government required them to carry at all times.

The massacre drew world condemnation of the ruthless treatment of

South Africa’s disenfranchised black majority and led the apartheid government

to outlaw the African National Congress party. The ANC has governed South Africa

since the country’s first all-race elections in 1994.

But 16 years after the end of apartheid, many black South Africans

feel that they have not benefited from the economic growth that has made many

government and ANC officials rich.

President Jacob Zuma, a popular figure among

the poor, has promised to speed up delivery of houses, clinics, schools, running

water and electricity as well as create jobs. But he also has acknowledged the

difficulties of doing so amid the global recession.

In Sharpeville, the engraved stone tablets on a wall at the Garden

of Remembrance are cracked in places. Some residents believe it is an attempt to

draw attention to the issues that remain decades later.

“People’s lives haven’t changed. There are so many things we don’t

have ... a community hall, a sports ground ... People are unhappy,” said Phillip

Makhale, caretaker of the memorial 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

walk very 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

corrugated iron walls reveal large holes where rain and bitter winter winds can

come 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 are the

toilets. They are the worst,” she said.

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