Africa was in ferment in the late 1950's. The native peoples of the continent, from the Mediterranean to the Cape of Good Hope, were responding to the call of leaders who saw in the philosophic idealism that had overtaken Europe their cue to agitate for self-determination. The white inhabitants and colonists of Africa recognised the collective immaturity of the continent's indigenous peoples and they resisted the efforts of the small corps of Western educated African elite who wished to ride to power on the certain majorities a "one-man, one-vote" system would give them.
In European capitals their pleas for democratic administrations were valid enough considering that a war had just been fought to reinstate democracy in Europe. Subsequently, however, the African elite themselves were to endorse the beliefs of the white inhabitants and colonists that African peoples were not ready for democratic governments, and they imposed authoritarian administrations harsher than those imposed by the Europeans they had replaced. Pleas for democracy proved to be a device intended to prise off colonial administration rather than an objective in itself. The new African leadership had only usurped the position of their former rulers, and lacking their skills these states went into decline while the corrupt elite lived like medieval sultans.
In South Africa the pattern of events had been predicted by the white man who had long since ceased to think as a European. Many Afrikaans speaking South Africans stem from families which have resided in the Cape of Good Hope for 300 years, and South Africans of English extraction have
among them forebears who came to this country over 140 years ago. Both belong to Africa. Certainly, the white man jealously guarded what he had built - a nation that was his; and between him and the African who wished to usurp authority over his state, there was no ground for compromise.
Events in Vereeniging were to highlight the ferment of the time and the name Sharpeville, Vereeniging's African (Bantu) township, was to focus world attention on the struggle in South Africa.
Situated two miles west of the central area of Vereeniging, Sharpeville was named at the request of the residents themselves in honour of Mayor John Lillie Sharpe. Sharpe was a man renowned for his interest in the welfare of the Bantu and it was his efforts that led to the resettlement of Bantu workers in the township. Formerly, they had dwelled in slum conditions in the old Top Location.
To control the influx of tribesmen into the cities and towns of South Africa, successive governments had made it obligatory for Bantu to carry at all times reference books authorising them to live and work in the towns. Influx control was designed to restrict access to the industrial areas into which Bantu in huge numbers flocked in search of work to create vast slum areas of unemployed people. The militant Pan African Congress, an offshoot of the African National Congress, elected to centre its attack on white authority by agitating for the removal of these Laws. Pan Africanists instructed township dwellers throughout South Africa to present themselves to police stations on March 21, 1960, without their reference books and demand that they be arrested.
The events which follow were recorded in evidence given at the commission of enquiry subsequent to the happenings of March 21, 1960. At the time, the population of Sharpeville was 8,655 men, 6,843 women and 20,863 children.
On the evening of March 20, Pan Africanist groups moved from house to house in Sharpeville instructing residents to join the protest the following morning. Those who failed to do so were threatened with violence. To protect the threatened, police from Vereeniging reinforced those at the police station at Sharpeville. Manned by 40 Bantu policemen under the