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Burning Spear News

1960 Sharpeville Massacre a turning point in rejection of pacifist struggle against colonialism in Occupied Azania (South Africa)

Mar 14, 2017
Luwezi Kinshasa; Secretary General, African People's Socialist Party

The Panafrican Congress of Azania’s (PAC) demonstration against the pass law was repressed by the white settler colonial rulers 57 years ago on March 21, 1960.

Sixty-nine people were murdered during this demonstration and 181 were wounded, in Sharpeville, a township in southern Gauteng province. Africans were also killed in similar protests in Langa and Cape Town.

The massacre occurred as thousands of demonstrators marched on the Sharpeville police station as the white settler police begin to fire their rifles, shooting most of our people in the back as we were running away.

A sector of the white ruling class in Britain, U.S. and elsewhere had agreed that neocolonialism was to replace direct colonialism, when Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe and the PAC called for a series of peaceful demonstrations across the country.

The Blacks Act No. 67 of 1952 required African people to produce “the book”—which included a photograph, carried details of place of origin, employment record, tax payments, and encounters with the police—upon the request of the police or an administrative official.

We were arrested and jailed for noncompliance.

British prime minister advocates neocolonialism to save white power

Occupied Azania was a part of British Dominion, a semi-autonomous country within the British colonial empire.

In 1948, the Nationalist party, which mainly represented boers—white settlers mostly from Holland—came to power and instituted the apartheid system in the country. Apartheid is the equivalent of Jim Crow Segregation in the  U.S.

British imperialism was weakened coming out of the second imperialist war to divide the world, commonly called World War II. Britain was forced to concede its spot as leader of the imperialist white nation and came under immediate assault from the rising tide of anti-colonialist struggles.

These struggles forced British colonialists to replace direct colonialism with indirect colonialism in order to save themselves.

In January 1960, Harold MacMillan, the British prime minister toured Africa for six weeks.

Inn February he stopped in South Africa and gave his historical “wind of change” speech to the white parliament—an obvious call for neocolonialist rule in South Africa.

MacMillan said, "The wind of change is blowing through this [African] continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it."

UN uses Sharpeville Massacre to define our struggle as one against racism

The Sharpeville Massacre, until the June 1976 Soweto uprising, was the most vivid image of colonial mass violence committed against our people in Occupied Azania.

The massacre helped white liberals and their African petty bourgeois allies redefine the struggle in Occupied Azania as a struggle against racism or apartheid, rather than a struggle for land and national liberation.

This made it easy for a neocolonial, white power in black face to exist in the country.

Neocolonialism was reinforced when the UN declared March 21, 1966 “The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.” 


A month after the Sharpeville Massacre, the government imposed the state of emergency and banned PAC and ANC from open political life.

The state of emergency was lifted in 1986, to pave the way for negotiations between Mandela’s ANC and the Nationalist party, led by Frederick de Klerk.

The Sharpeville Massacre forced the pacifist PAC/ANC to consider armed struggle against the minority white settler regime.


Robert Sobukwe, founding leader of the PAC, was arrested and jailed between 1961-1964, in Roben Islands.

He was immediately re-arrested under what became known as the Sobukwe clause “Article 4 of the General Law Amendment Act of 1963—which allowed the government to detain indefinitely without trial anyone who, having completed a prison sentence, was deemed by the minister of justice to be a danger to the State.”

Sobukwe later died from cancer in 1978.

No African freedom without international black power!

The Sharpeville Massacre happened when the African working class had not consolidated its own political, ideological and organizational independence. We were followers of the petty bourgeois concepts of Pan-Africanism that raised pacifism as a principle in the struggle against colonialism.

Sharpeville taught us that the struggle in South Africa is an international question for Africans and for Europeans.

The white settlers will quickly loose power in Azania, without white power support around the world.

It is equally true that without the international victory of black power over reactionary white power, there will  be no freedom for our people in South Africa or anywhere else.

We pay tribute to all martyrs of the Sharpeville Massacre.

We have the clear understanding that the massacre of our people on The Continent facilitates and furthers the genocide of Africans in the U.S.

Touch One! Touch All!

Build the African Socialist International

Unleash the power of the workers against all colonial violence!


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