Friday, March 26, 2010

Let the Correct History be Told About the "Sharpeville Massacre"

ViewPoint | by Julius Malema

Let the correct history be told

The political implosion that today we have come to know as the "Sharpeville Massacre" and commemorate as integral to Human Rights Day, was a tragedy of unparalleled proportions in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Never before had so many innocent and defenceless people been senselessly killed since the Africans were united under the banner of the African National Congress from 1912.

Of course, there were other battles with far many more people being killed, with the famous Bambatha Rebellion of 1905 being amongst the last of such rebellion against colonial oppression, but not at such a large scale as the Sharpeville Massacre. This was nonetheless a beginning of increased repression, leading amongst others to the events of June 1976, when within a space of less than a year more than 1000 young people were killed.

The magnitude of the massacre warranted direct condemnation of those barbaric acts committed against defenceless peaceful protesters. As a result, the question of what led to the massacre became obscured in the international condemnation of those criminal murders committed with impunity.

Precisely because many people died on that fateful day, those who claimed victory for the historical significance of the ultimate sacrifice by ordinary people went on to do so unchallenged to this day. In accordance with African customs, antagonistic debates are often suspended in respect of the departed.

For years, the PAC perpetually made the claim that they are being ignored by the majority party in Parliament, and that their historical role in dismantling apartheid should accordingly be recognised. Amongst such roles is the claim that they were behind the popular mobilisation leading to the unfortunate Sharpeville massacre.

We do not intend to be history's revisionists. Neither do we as the ANC intend to claim easy victories, for surely the death of 69 people on what became Sharpeville Day was no easy victory! Indeed as some have said, it was victory written in the blood of our people. That victory saw amongst others, India's President Nehru acting against apartheid South Africa.

But what is it that the PAC did leading to that fateful day? About three years earlier in 1958, Robert Sobukwe led a breakaway from the ANC, forming the PAC in 1959. The PAC was always a small splinter organisation of disgruntled people who broke away from the ANC, just like others such as COPE, albeit with the difference that they (PAC), was more principled in the breakaway than the extremely hypocritical COPE, as theirs (PAC) was based on policy differences with the ANC.

The build up of massive resistance in South Africa was undoubtedly led by the ANC, and this was attested to by its popular support since the political unbanning to the present. The ANC led in the Defiance Campaign Against Unjust Laws in 1952 and mobilised the various sectors of our population in the 1955 Congress of the People, hence our insistence that the real Congress of the People is the ANC. In future, COPE will distort this historical fact, and in fact the name was intended to imply that deception.

There is no doubt that there have always been various ideological strands in South Africa, even amongst the various forces fighting for liberation from apartheid. However, these various forces were incapable of unleashing massive resistance, hence they piggy backed on the activities organised by the ANC and the Sharpeville massacre was no exception. All those political organisations opposed to apartheid were united in their rejection of the pass laws.

At the opportunity of mobilisation by the African National Congress of people around the country, including Sharpeville, the PAC saw an opportunity to kindle life into its own political activities by upstaging the events as organised by the ANC. The ANC was mobilising the masses of our people for a rally on the 31st March 1960.

The PAC quickly organised a march scheduled for the 21st, going door to door, distributed very misleading pamphlets purporting that the march was organised by the "Congress". As a result, many people were misled into thinking that the march was organised by the ANC.

The question that could be asked, is why did the "Pan Africanist Congress of Azania", that is so evidently proud of its distinguishing name chose to use the name "Congress" for what was to be arguably its biggest political event since their formation in 1959? More so when it was the ANC that often went under the name "Congress" or "the Congress" or in isiZulu "uKhongolose"?

As it is, the Sharpeville Massacre remains an isolated incident in the history of the PAC. There were no build ups to that fateful event, neither were there events following that, except that the PAC was also banned when the apartheid regime decided to ban the African National Congress in 1960. The Sharpeville massacre finds proper locus in the events organised by the ANC before and after the massacre itself.

Other historical figures confirm the view that the ANC was responsible for the popular mobilisation that led to the opportunistic door to door activities of the PAC in the morning of 21st March 1960.

Amongst these is Nelson Mandela in his "Long Walk to Freedom". If scholarly quotes and references add value to truth, we know that Nelson Mandela would not tell lies or claim easy victories!

Also, Alistair Boddy-Evans, in "The origins of the Human Rights Day", make the following assertion:

"The PAC and ANC did not agree on policy, and it seemed unlikely in 1959 that they would co-operate in any manner. The ANC planned a campaign of demonstration against the pass laws to start at the beginning of April 1960. The PAC rushed ahead and announced a similar demonstration, to start ten days earlier, effectively hijacking the ANC campaign."

While Robert Sobukwe emphasised that the demonstration was to be peaceful, Alistair Boddy-Evans further made the assertion that the PAC leadership was in fact hoping for a violent response, if that be the case, the only reason was again for the PAC to deliberately ensure the shedding of blood so as to elevate their supposed importance in the struggle for liberation.

Then the ANC could not correct the situation because everybody was grieving for the dead and in shock, but in retrospect, Sharpeville must be properly located in the struggle as led by the African National Congress, of course admitting to the bloody opportunism that the PAC is.

In doing so, as the ANC we are neither revisionists nor opportunists that tell lies and claim easy victories! Consequently, the ANC owes the PAC no political elevation and no amount of grandstanding would turn the tide against its dwindling support because its ideology was as irrelevant in 1958 and 1959 as it is today.

That is why the PAC has got no support even in the areas where it claims to be its stronghold. But like every other party, they too are mistaken in the hope that a political collision with the ANC would give them a breath of life.

The correct history should be told to the youth of South Africa by their own organisation which played pivotal role in the defiance campaign.

Julius Malema is the President of the African National Congress Youth League

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