The name, Sharpeville, is known all over the world. And every year, on 21st March, people remember Sharpeville. They remember the 69 people who died in the pass protests of 1960.
Learn and Teach went to Sharpeville. We went down one of the only two tarred roads. We drove past the police station where people were shot in 1960. Then we turned off into the dusty road that Mma Diniso lives in.
Mma Diniso had promised to tell us the story of Sharpeville – right from the early days of Top Location. When we got to her house, we found Oom Jantjie Keele with her.
Both Mma Diniso and Oom Jantjie have lived in Sharpeville for many years. Mma Diniso started talking first.
“Before we came to Sharpeville, I lived in Top Location,” Mma Diniso said. “I went to live there in 1951, when I got married. At that time Top Location was already old. I think the houses there were built around 1902.
“There were only two rows of houses. And the people who lived in them, owned them. The municipality had promised to build more houses. But while people were waiting for their new houses, they built shacks in the backyards.
“I lived in a big shack – it had eight rooms. We paid about R2,50 – but it was pounds in those days. People with small shacks paid less money.”
“But,” said Oom Jantjie, “the municipality never built more houses in Top Location. They only built houses in Sharpeville. The municipality said the people who wanted to stay in Top Location could stay. So very few people moved to Sharpeville.”
A ‘LEKKER’ PLACE TO LIVE
“People did not want to move. Top was a ‘lekker’ place to live. Everyone lived together, Africans, ‘coloureds’, Indians, skin colour didn’t matter.
“There were stokvels every weekend. Sometimes the police raided and people who made ‘umqombothi’ were arrested. Sometimes there were pass raids. Then people who did not have the right papers were arrested. There were times when people fought back. People fought the police if they were drunk.”
MR SHISHI WARNS PEOPLE
“People started saying that everyone was going to be moved to Sharpeville. There was one man, Mr Shishi. He owned a house. He told people to be careful. He said they must fight against moving.
“When the police heard of this, they came and chased him out of his house. They took all his furniture out. Rain came that night and all his things got wet. And Mr Shishi left Top. But he did not go to Sharpeville. He moved to Evaton instead.”
GOOD-BYE TO TOP
Mma Diniso carried on with the story. “In 1959 the municipality came to Top Location. They said everyone must leave. The municipality made promises. They said in Sharpeville there would be more schools, tarred roads, street lights and very nice homes.
“They said Sharpeville is ‘Kotis’phola’ – where people relax. And they said that we would pay rent for thirty years, then the houses would be ours. So we moved.”
PEOPLE MOVE TO SHARPEVILLE
“When we got to Sharpeville, we got a big shock. The houses were a mess. They only had one door -the front door. The walls inside were not plastered. And the floors were made out of concrete.”
“We struggled to pay the rent. Many people were locked out of their homes because they could not pay. Sometimes as many as 200 houses were locked. The municipal police moved about in streets with buckets full of keys to lock people out.”
THE TIME OF ‘MAYIBUYE’
“Then in 1960, the municipality put the rent up to R7,00. People were angry. Everyone said we must go to the police station on 21st March. We wanted to complain about our high rent.”
Oom Jantjie stopped Mma Diniso. He said, “You must remember that it was also the time of ‘IZWELETHI’ and ‘ MAYIBUYE’. Many people in Sharpeville were members of the Pan African Congress – the PAC. They said on the 21st March we must leave our passes at home. Then we must tell the police to arrest us.”
THE PROTEST ENDS IN DEATH
“On the 21st, thousands of people marched to the police station. When we got there we found saracens and jeeps. The police started shooting. We ran in all directions.
“I was one of the lucky ones -1 got away. But 69 people died that day. And many more were injured. We were very angry that week. No one went to work. We stayed at home and we mourned for our lost sons, daughters, mothers and fathers.”
‘LIFE HAD TO GO ON’
“I was pregnant at that time,” said Mma Diniso. “So on the 21st my husband said I must stay at home. It took a long time for people to get over the shootings. Life had to go on. But people have never forgotten what happened – and they never will.
“There were some goods things in Sharpeville,” said Mma Diniso. There was a band that came from Sharpeville – the Sharpetown Swingsters. Everyone liked their music very much. When my daughter got married, they played at her wedding. It was a party to remember.”
1984 – PEOPLE PROTEST AGAIN
Trouble started again in 1984. Once again people were angry about their rents. The Lekoa Town Council put the rents up from R62,00 to R67,00. People protested about this increase. And again the protests ended in death.
“People were very angry about the increases,” said Mma Diniso. “When we moved here in 1959, we were promised that at the end of thirty years, we would not pay rent anymore. But over the years the rent just got higher and higher.”
A BROKEN PROMISE
“The Lekoa Town Council said they were not interested in the promises that the municipality made. They said those promises were made to our fathers, not to us. So we must forget about it.
But people did not want to forget about it. So they fought back. And still today people are not paying rents here.”
“And now we have a new worry in Sharpeville,” said Oom Jantjie. “The Town Council is not building houses here anymore. And there is talk that one day we will all be moved to Sebokeng. People cannot live like this.”
A ‘V’ SIGN FOR PEACE
We listened in tears to the old man’s last words. And on the way home, we thought about how the people in Sharpeville have suffered. Then we thought about the ‘V’ sign you make for the taxis, to show that you want to go to Sharpeville.
‘V’ stands for love and peace. And ‘V’ stands for victory. We hope that is what the people of Sharpeville will have one day.