Was their blood shed in vain?

2010-03-20 15:14

ICAN remember vividly,

from as early as five years old or even younger, almost every night, the same

recurring nightmare in montage. I was barely two years old. I had fallen into a

deep sleep.

First, the droning sound overhead; second, total silence – and then

a man (or boy) on a bicycle.

Third, I am caught in a huge stampede, the noise is deafening, with

a staccato of what sounds like rapid gunfire in the background. Then silence and

total darkness.

Fourth, I open my eyes and I am in someone’s arms inside a house

and we are both looking out onto the street. It seems rain has just fallen and

the stream that flows down the road is red with blood. I fall into a deep


Fifth, when I wake up I am sleeping under urine-soaked blankets.

This nightmare continued well into my early teens. Then, aged 22 in

1980, while visiting a library in Brandfort, a small town in Free State which

was the exile home of Winnie Mandela, I picked up one of the books on the

history of the struggle. I read about the events of that fateful day in

Sharpeville on March 21 1960.

Every account recorded by journalists and witnesses was the exact

mirror image of my nightmare. The droning sound was indeed that of the squadron

that flew over Sharpeville just before the shootings.

The stampede was thousands of people fleeing as the police opened

fire on them.

My mother, who was a nurse at Sharpeville Clinic at the time, had

left me in the care of a neighbour who carried me to the police station where

everyone was going.

She must have dropped me in a panic when the shooting started;

hence the stampede all around me. Luckily someone grabbed me from the ground in

time and ran into a nearby yard from where he and I observed what was happening


I witnessed the reported rain that immediately fell and washed the

blood off the fallen, through the window and from the arms of this person. How I

hope he or she is still alive so that I can thank them for saving my life.

Speaking as perhaps the youngest survivor (at two years old) of the

1960 Sharpeville massacre, it saddens me and fills me with shame to see 50 years

later what has become of the event that was to become a turning point in the

history of our country.

The event resulted in the declaration of a state of emergency and

the unleashing of the worst repression of our people.

Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe, among thousands of others, were

jailed and the rest of our leaders were forced into exile.

The international community ushered in the international

Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Even declaring March 21 International Day Against Racism and

Oppression has resulted in the day becoming just one of those days of a past

which we, especially some of us in government, want to wish away and reluctantly

give minimum recognition to in the form of a low-key party.

There is no legacy in the form of economic empowerment projects,

especially for the forgotten people of Sharpeville.

On the 50th anniversary of Sharpeville, South Africa lost a major

opportunity to showcase its rich heritage to the world. The biggest losers are

our national conscience and identity as a people, in particular those of


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