It is sad when a party loses talented people. It is sadder when one has worked for decades to build a party to see it teetering on the brink of a major setback.
Some of the coffins of the 69 people who were killed in Sharpeville on 21 March 1960. (Twitter)
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Mcebo Freedom Dlamini
When you think about the events that might have played
out in Sharpeville you are immediately disconcerted.
You think death, guns, bodies on the floor and
running. You think of an old woman shot in her neck while running. You see her
stretched on the ground with her breasts exposed. You think of a tall,
dark figure walking in front of the masses with people shuffling against each
other, fighting for a turn to say something to him.
You think Sobukwe. You think of children
screaming but then they disappear into the crowd. You think
of parents who lost their children and children who had to
mother themselves. You think of voices shouting "Mayibuye!" and
"Amandla!" from a distance.
When you think of Sharpeville, you remember all the
things that might have been deliberately forgotten. You think of a time
where there was little room for fear – a time where all that mattered
was to make it to the protest.
It is almost 49 years since
the Sharpeville and Langa massacres took place. On March 21,
1960 the apartheid government sanctioned the mass slaughter of
black people who were protesting against being treated as outcasts in
the land of their forefathers.
This moment in history is usually
narrated as a protest where blacks were merely protesting against the
carrying of passes in order to have access to certain spaces that were only
reserved for white people.
also about land
But they were demanding more than that. The
martyrs of Langa and Sharpeville were not only challenging
discriminatory actions and unfair relations. When they decided to
protest they had already formulated, extensively, ideas around land as the most important precept if black people are
to attain true freedom. They had already identified the return
of land, not only as rectification of a historical injustice, but as a
necessity if blacks are to recreate themselves anew. They
had already resolved that the land question is inextricably linked to the
question of ontology, the question of being and identity.
The protest, which was led by the Pan Africanist
Congress (PAC), was a moment of resistance by people who had been turned
into "objects amid objects" by a brutal system which meted violence
against them without "transgression as a precondition".
They were resisting against a system which
refused to recognise them as humans and oppressed them simply because
they were black and they were there.
The events leading up to March 21, the day of the massacre,
as they appear in the few remaining records, show that the
apartheid government saw black people as non-beings that they
could violate and dispossess without consequence. They did not see humans.
people meant to be incorporated into the human rights discourse?
Today, the day of the massacre is celebrated as Human
The idea of
human rights is not without a particular history. The conceptualisation of
human rights is said to be a response to the many atrocities that took place
around the world.
The idea of human rights was long established during
the tyrannical period of apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid as legislation
endured for a period of more than 50 years under the watch of the United Nations
and other human rights organisations that have the responsibility of
ensuring that the rights of all people everywhere are protected. This reality
invites us to question whether or not, from the very conception, black people
were meant to be incorporated into the human rights discourse.
The celebration of this day invites us to think about
whether or not there has been a mark of punctuation in history, or whether
there has just been a "historical continuum" as Jared Sexton would
This is to ask, have the conditions that created the
happening of the massacre been altered or have they remained the same?
To continue celebrating the day means we ought to ask
whether or not people who were dehumanised for hundreds of years are now being
protected by human rights. To what extent has the existence of these
rights under constitutionalism been effective?
still permeates the fabric of our present'
In South Africa certain gestures and manifestations of
power that anchored the apartheid order still exist even today.
This stasis in how power is structured shows that human
rights "for all" did not present a tabula rasa.
Post 1994 the townships which were created by the
apartheid regime were not abated and the conditions of those who live
in townships were not radically changed. These congested spaces
are still sites of death and violence even today. Black
people are still living below the poverty line, economic and social hierarchies
that existed during the apartheid period have not changed. The land which
69 people died for in less than four hours during the massacre has
not been returned.
A white minority still owns the land and therefore the
resources beneath and above it. It would be parochialism to argue
that the abject condition of black people is not a result of the
effects of apartheid. The "past" that is apartheid still permeates
the very fabric of our present.
Black people have oscillated back and forth
in search of humanity. In the wake of Parliament passing the motion
to review the Constitution in order to effect land expropriation without
compensation shows that the "children of Langa" are not dead.
This is an important move in ensuring that those who
were stripped of the humanity regain their humanness. Acknowledging the
economic and political realities of black people will enable us to have honest
conversations about what human rights are and to what extent they have/will be
able to ameliorate the conditions that are still faced by a majority of
Embracing them without critique can only bear the
result of sustaining the status quo and the status quo is an unpleasant
place for the poor, who also happen to be black.
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