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Sharpeville is one of the oldest of six townships in the Vaal Triangle. It was named after John Lillie Sharpe who came to South Africa from Glasgow, Scotland, as secretary of Stewarts & Lloyds. Sharpe was elected to the Vereeniging Town Council in 1932 and held the position of mayor from 1934 to 1937.
The main reason for the establishment of Sharpeville was the relocation of people from 'Top location" to an area away from Vereeniging because it was felt black people were too close to Vereeniging for comfort. Unfortunately, because the project was only intended to relocate residents of "Top location", and not to house additional people it did not alleviate the housing shortage. What was planned as a five-year resettlement project beginning in 1935, in fact, took 20 years. In 1941, 16 000 people lived in "Top Location". The building of the houses only started in 1942. A sub-economic housing scheme was used for Sharpeville. Water was free but 14 houses shared one tap and there were two bathing complexes in the township. By 1946 some of the houses had their own taps and bathrooms. The township was first called "Sharpe Native Township" but it changed to Sharpeville in the 1950's.


With the implementation of the apartheid government’s Group Areas Act 21 of 1950, it was estimated that over 3.5 million South Africans were forcibly removed from 1960 to 1982. Of the "Top Location" residents, Blacks were moved to Sharpeville, Coloureds to Rus-ter-vaal and Indians to Roshnee. The Indians were the last ethnic group to leave "Top Location", the last residents being moved to Roshnee in 1974. In 2004, the people of Top location were compensated for the loss of their properties and land, and an amount of R60,000 per house was paid to all former residents or dependants.

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Symbolically, Nelson Mandela signed the South African Constitution in Sharpeville on the 10th of December, 1996. He also opened "The Sharpeville Memorial" to honour the victims of the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. On March 21 1960, Sharpeville saw the horrific deaths of 69 people who were shot during what was intended to be a peaceful anti-passbook demonstration. March 21 is now celebrated as Human Rights Day.
Sharpeville Massacre
The Sharpeville massacre occurred on March 21, 1960, when South African police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters. The African National Congress (ANC) had decided to launch a campaign against the pass laws, which required all blacks to carry pass books (dompas) at all times. The protests were to begin on March 31, 1960. The rival Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) decided to pre-empt the ANC by launching its own campaign ten days earlier, on March 21, 1960.

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