Chief Albert Luthuli
Hundreds of others…
On March 21, 1960 in the township of Sharpeville five to seven thousand Africans gathered in front of the police headquarters to protest the carrying of mandatory pass books. Their intention was to leave their passbooks at home and fill the jails until there was no more room, thus costing the government financially, and depriving white employers of workers. Police threw tear gas into the crowd without warning and some protesters reacted by throwing rocks at them. A police officer opened fire with live ammunition, and a reported 70 people were killed, among them eight women and ten children. One Hundred Eighty were injured. The BBC reported on this day that, ” Police Commander D H Pienaar said: “It started when hordes of natives surrounded the police station….He said that, “If they do these things, they must learn their lessons the hard way.”
“Hordes,” “Natives,” “Lessons,” Africans with rocks, police with loaded guns. Unbelievable, I say. I, the one whose country brutally colonized American Indians and enslaved Africans, while perpetrating deplorable crimes against them. I who am still financially complicit in their inequality, and unconsciously complicit in my ignorance. We all are called to look within on the anniversary of this terrible massacre.
Helen Suzman, Ruth First, and Joe Slovo were South African Jews. They knew that Shoah can happen again if we stop remembering. It happened again in South Africa in Sowetto Township on June 16 1976. More than 176 and up to 700 people were killed by police who fired into a gathering of school children simply demanding to study in their own language rather than in mandatory Afrikaans. The BBC on that terrible day quoted South African Prime Minister Vorster as saying, “We are dealing here not with a spontaneous outburst but with a deliberate attempt to bring about polarisation between whites and blacks. “This government will not be intimidated and instructions have been given to maintain law and order at all costs.” [emphasis mine].” Denial purports to cover a multitude of sins.
As spiritual persons we are called to remember. It makes us human. Today let us hold our own truth and reconciliation hearings in our own hearts, to one another, and to the world beyond.