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Sharpeville Massacre

The Sharpeville Massacre occurred on March 21, 1960, when South African police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters. The confrontation occurred in the township of Sharpeville, in what is now Gauteng province.

A group of between 5000 and 7000 people converged on the local police station, offering themselves up for arrest for not carrying their "reference books" (identity documents). This was intended to protest the laws which required all blacks to carry reference books at all times.

69 people were killed, and over 180 injured. It is debated whether or not the police attack was provoked. The statements of Lieutenant Colonel Pienaar show that the mere gathering of blacks could have served as a provokation:

"The Native mentality does not allow them to gather for a peaceful demonstration. For them to gather means violence."

The uproar among blacks was immediate, and the following week saw demonstrations, protest marches, strikes, and riots around the country. On March 30, 1960, the government declared a state of emergency, detaining more than 18,000 people.

A storm of international protest followed the Sharpeville shootings, including condemnation by the United Nations. On April 1, 1960, the United Nations Security Council sat to "consider seriously the apartheid colonial oppression of the African people in South Africa" Sharpeville marked a turning point in South Africa's history; the country found itself increasingly isolated in the international community.

The Sharpeville massacre was one of the catalysts for the foundation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress.

See also: History of South Africa

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