Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1078/30453

From The Socialist newspaper, 18 March 2020

South Africa: 60 years marking the Sharpeville Massacre

Sharpeville, photo by Godfrey Rubens/CC

Sharpeville, photo by Godfrey Rubens/CC   (Click to enlarge)

The beginnings of revolutionary working-class struggle against a brutal capitalist regime

Andy Bentley, Socialist Party national committee

On 21 March 1960, a peaceful protest took place in the black township of Sharpeville, South Africa, against hated 'pass laws'.

In response, police shot dead 69 protesters and wounded 180 others. 60 years later the Sharpeville Massacre is remembered across the world.

The Sharpeville Massacre took place in a South Africa that denied even basic democratic rights and freedoms to those considered as "non-white" under an apartheid (racial segregation and discrimination) system.

White people, who made up just 15% of South Africa's population, stood at the top of society with their power and wealth, and owned 92% of the land.

An exclusively white electorate was represented by the National Party (NP) - which was reelected in 1948 and stayed in power until 1994.

The NP passed laws to further entrench long-standing practices of segregation and racial oppression.

Black South Africans (80% of the population) were relegated to the very bottom. Apartheid laws restricted almost every aspect of their lives.

The hated pass laws meant that the black population had to have their identity pass at all times. This gave the government strict control over the movement of black South Africans, restricting where they could work and live.

Fighting back

Many peaceful protests took place against the apartheid laws, including the pass laws. In March 1960, the Pan African Congress (PAC, a black-nationalist rival organisation that had split from the non-racial African National Congress - ANC) organised a peaceful protest in the black township of Sharpeville.

The aim was to march to the police station without their passes and ask to be arrested. As they chanted freedom songs and shouted "down with the passes" the police opened fire on the unarmed protesters without warning.

It was estimated that 700 bullets were fired with most protesters shot in the back. This slaughter was not accidental.

Extra police had already been brought in, along with armoured vehicles and military jets flying overhead.

The use of brutal force demonstrated the potential military power of the apartheid capitalist regime.

But at the same time it revealed the regime's fear of a revolutionary uprising of the black South African working class.

Just days later, on 30 March, approximately 30,000 protesters marched in Cape Town to protest the shootings.

South Africa's government became increasingly isolated internationally, but refused to abandon its policies of apartheid and racial discrimination.

A state of emergency was declared with around 2,000 people detained. On 8 April, both the ANC and PAC were banned and it became illegal to be a member of these organisations.

ANC leader Nelson Mandela, and others, concluded that an armed struggle (both the PAC and ANC formed military wings) was necessary to defeat apartheid.

Forerunners of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI - the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated) warned that an underground military struggle, although heroic, would not bring down a brutal capitalist apartheid government armed to the teeth.

In fact, it was the mass revolutionary uprising of black youth in the 1980s (preceded by the bloody Soweto school student uprising in 1976), and widespread industrial strike struggles - with the demand for socialism on their banners - that ultimately caused the fall of apartheid in the early 1990s, and the release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison.

In reality, the white-dominated apartheid state was forced to carry out 'reforms from above' to prevent 'revolution from below'.

But the lack of an organised mass revolutionary socialist party based in the working class, allowed capitalism to continue, despite the fall of apartheid and the ANC taking power.

Instead, a Tripartite Alliance was formed in 1990 by the leaders of the ANC, South African Communist Party and the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

The Alliance effectively held back the revolution and allowed capitalism to survive, post-apartheid.

The ANC had adopted the Freedom Charter in the 1950s, under pressure from the working class for a revolutionary change in society. The charter included nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy.

In the 1980s, the two million-strong Cosatu adopted the Freedom Charter under the banner of "Socialism means Freedom" and led a series of general strikes, which were a key factor in the collapse of apartheid.

However, when in power the ANC leaders, lacking a socialist alternative, became enthusiastically pro-capitalist.

This was revealed through an aggressive programme of mass privatisations of public services such as electricity and water.

In the ANC's first five years of power 500,000 jobs disappeared in construction, engineering, textiles, mining and the public sector.

The radical features of the Freedom Charter, like nationalisation, were forgotten. Inevitably this led to a drastic fall in membership and rank-and-file activity, and an influx of careerists.

Many former ANC militants simply enriched themselves, like Cyril Ramaphosa, the current president of South Africa.

This former miners' union leader became a multimillionaire, multiple property owner, serving on the board of Lonmin, owners of the Marikana mine site (see below).

Sharpeville to Marikana

Under apartheid the police and armed forces were used to intimidate and gun down workers and youth taking protest action, as seen in Sharpeville and Soweto.

Unfortunately for the black working class, the same methods were adopted by the ANC government, with its black capitalist elite in control.

In 2012, between 10 August and 20 September, 47 striking platinum miners were gunned down in Marikana, with another 78 injured. Like Sharpeville, most were shot in the back as they were running away.

Those black workers slaughtered at Sharpeville, Marikana, and many others in between, will always be remembered.

The same brutal methods used under apartheid and the ANC regime to slaughter, if necessary, workers fighting for a decent future demonstrate in action the complete capitulation of the ANC leadership to capitalism.

Where next?

Capitalist 'experts' across the globe differ on how to solve the current world economic crisis but are in total agreement that capitalism is the god of profit and must remain at any cost.

Capitalism exists to make the privileged few even wealthier at the expense of the blood, sweat and tears of working-class people.

The task of abolishing capitalism and building a democratic socialist future can only be carried out by the mass of the working class, organised for struggle and armed with a socialist programme.

This is what the Marxist Workers Party - CWI in South Africa - is committed to building. Only this could guarantee no more Sharpevilles or Marikanas.

Further reading:

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • We must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation

 

Your message: 

 


In The Socialist 18 March 2020:


Workplace news and analysis

Stop Press: postal workers deliver massive strike vote and offer to become additional 'emergency service'

East London bin workers strike to get back unpaid holiday pay

Determined St Mungo's homelessness workers strike for three days


International socialist news and analysis

French local elections: CWI candidate elected

New pamphlet: constituent assemblies and the revolutionary programme


Socialist history

South Africa: 60 years marking the Sharpeville Massacre


Coronavirus

Coronavirus: workers must not pay the price!

Capitalist crisis and corona: Johnson's budget for the bosses

Coronavirus - a workers charter 2020

Coronavirus: socialist planning, not capitalist chaos!

Coronavirus housing emergency - suspend rent and mortgage payments, seize empty homes

PCS union demands better deal for benefits claimants

Councils must break austerity rules

Action needed to protect shop workers and access to essential goods

Coronavirus hospital worker: amazing response from staff - but worst still to come

'Health not profit' strike wave sweeps Italy

United States: private healthcare exposed as Trump throws money at markets

Workers at Lewisham coronavirus hospital walk out after not being paid

Coronavirus - waste processing employers putting us at risk

Bexley bin workers strike over lack of hand sanitiser

Going viral: socialist letters and comments on the coronavirus crisis

Under the microscope: socialist coronavirus news in brief


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Help us fund the Socialist

Stop gentrification of Lea Bridge

Tory student plot defeated at Cardiff uni

Nottingham uni occupation ends

Socialist Students speaking tour

Selling the Socialist


Readers' opinion

TV: Noughts and Crosses


 

Home   |   The Socialist 18 March 2020   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Apartheid:

triangleThe fall of Apartheid in South Africa

triangleThe fall of Apartheid in South Africa

triangleSpycops inquiry continues to expose historic attacks on democratic rights

triangleLeeds & York Socialist Party: How apartheid was ended in South Africa

triangleCardiff East Socialist Party: How apartheid was overthrown in South Africa

South Africa:

triangleSouth Africa: Build working class unity for way forward for all

triangleQuestion mark over AstraZeneca's vaccine to protect against new Covid variant

triangleSouth Africa: Mass day of action for permanent jobs and a living wage

triangleSouth Africa: Working class unity to stop violence against women

Africa:

triangleBook that inspired me: God's bits of wood

triangleConflict in Ethiopia: ethnic-linguistic divisions are the historical product of capitalist inequality

triangleHackney & Islington Socialist Party: The Marikana massacre in South Africa

ANC:

triangleSouth Africa: Building jobs and living wage campaign

triangleSouth Africa: new workers' formations herald fightback against Ramaphosa's capitalist agenda

Marikana:

triangleCardiff West Socialist Party: South Africa - 5 years after the Marikana massacre

Mandela:

triangleWhat we heard

Historic events

Historic events

19/1/22

Rob Windsor

Rob Windsor - remembering a tireless fighter for socialism

6/1/22

Britain

New unionism - when mass workers' action changed Britain

24/11/21

Chartists

Chartism: The world's first working-class movement

10/11/21

London

75 years after the first new town

20/10/21

South Africa

The fall of Apartheid in South Africa

20/10/21

South Africa

The fall of Apartheid in South Africa

13/10/21

Winter of Discontent

The 'winter of discontent' - When workers could take no more

6/10/21

Jarrow

Ten years since our 330-mile Jarrow March for Jobs

22/9/21

Occupy

10 years since Occupy

8/9/21

Terror

9/11 and the 'War on Terror' twenty years on

25/8/21

Poplar

Lessons from Poplar 100 years on

11/8/21

Soviet Union

August 1991 - The aborted military coup in the 'Soviet Union'

7/7/21

Terry Fields

Terry Fields MP, Prisoner DV 3695 - The jailing of 'poll tax' rebel and Militant

9/6/21

Clyde

The 1971 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders occupation and work-in

26/5/21

Bob Marley

Get up, stand up - don't give up the fight!

triangleMore Historic events articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: [email protected]

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 077 7221 5281

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 078 0983 9793

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


January 2022

2021

2020

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999