The Sharpeville Massacre, in which South African police gunned down 250 black protesters, marked a turning point in the struggle against Apartheid. But it would take another 34 years until democracy finally came to South Africa. A cautionary tale for Palestinians.
His art lies scattered across an unkept room, amid tarps and spent cans of paint. In the far corner, a giant head of papier-mâché sits propped beside a stencilled wall, where the artist has traced the likeness of a British tank. The image, the color of soot and blood, evokes a particular kind of armored vehicle — the Saracen — which, 59 years ago this month, gunned down dozens of unarmed protestors here.
Here is Sharpeville, and Thabiso Gaedie, its native son, shakes his head politely when I finally ask him about the sign. At Gaza’s Great March of Return, I say, protesters held a banner bearing his township’s name. And in one day alone, the Israelis killed 68 marchers, with well over a hundred more killed since. We Palestinians, I try to explain, have our own Sharpevilles.
But I am not here to talk about Palestine. I came to Sharpeville on a scorching, late-summer day to hear from its residents first-hand, to test the logic that has made of its trauma such a common metaphor for our own. What I found is a place as forgotten as it is heralded; a place no South African I spoke with — white or black — had ever visited; and, as I discovered when trying to find my own way there, a place most foreign visitors skip, opting for the more familiar scripts of Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum or the Mandela House of Soweto.
It’s easy, I suppose, to understand why. According to government census data, Sharpeville is one of the smallest of South Africa’s townships, with a population less than two percent that of Soweto, the sprawling cluster of urban settlements that, by some estimates, is home to more than two million people. Still, Sharpeville’s size is dwarfed by its symbolism.
It was here, at the site of the massacre that bears its name, that Nelson Mandela chose to sign South Africa’s democratic constitution. And each year, on the massacre’s anniversary, the country’s sitting president, flanked by all manner of politicians, gathers at the memorial to lay wreaths marking “Human Rights Day” — an obliquely named public holiday that Julius Malema,...Read More