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township that CAN'T SHAKE OFF ITS PAST

By Thami Ka Plaatjie | Mar 08, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

T THE heart of the uprisings of March 21 1960 in Sharpeville were a myriad causal factors that conspired to usher that fateful and tragic day in our annals of resistance.

Four factors at the core of the uprising were: economic, police repression, forced removal and radicalisation of the community.

Sharpeville owed its establishment to the people who were forcibly removed from Top Location. It had been declared a township in 1914. Africans then had a freehold right to their land.

Each stand owner soon rented out rooms to the increasing number of migrants who were seeking employment in Vereeniging.

The influx of migrant labourers, most of whom were coming from Lesotho, soon swelled the ranks of the population in Top Location. In the 1940's about 20 to 45 people or more were residing in one stand.

Stand owners became an opulent elite class from rent proceeds. The Indian and Coloured communities came to settle in Top Location and brought further economic opportunities when they opened a number of shops and wholesalers.

The economic boom that preceded and followed World War 2 brought an increased number of migrants desiring to sell their labour at Iscor and other secondary manufacturing companies such as Wire Works, Mitco, Stewart & Loyds, Markinor Chain and Honey Dew.

Most of these factories supplied equipment, especially steel for the war against Hitler.

The decision to relocate the residents of Top Location to Sharpeville was taken in 1941. About 600 morgen were bought from the Vereeniging Estate for this purpose. Families were gradually relocated until the last group of 2500 people were settled in 1959.

The post-war economic boom soon faded, resulting in scores of residents of Top Location losing their jobs. They arrived in Sharpeville poorer.

In Top Location women were selling African beer called umqombothi and its other strong variable called imbhambha. It was also called skokiaan, Barberton and gavini.

Top Location was very close to town and most people walked to and from town.

The police's attitude towards pass offenders was relaxed with almost new arrivals that constituted the marginal social gangs called the Russians and the Mentiers. Life in Top Location was vibrant, exuberant, dramatic and sometimes fatal, in the same vein as Sophiatown.

On the contrary, life in Sharpeville was hell, dull and lethargic. Residents had to ride a bus to town and its fares were constantly increased. There was no subletting of stands which meant the death of the elites who had become rich from renting out.

There was a municipal beer hall and all other people, especially women, were disallowed from brewing and selling their own liquor. The taste of the municipal beer was insipid, lacking the necessary kick and punch of the shebeen queen's skokiaan. The women whose businesses had flourished in Top Location found themselves poor without any means of survival in the face of exorbitant daily demands for rental, transport and food.

Pass laws were ostensibly enforced in Sharpeville and scores of pass offenders were brought before the courts every day.

According to Nat Nakasa of Drum, about 1250000 people were arrested for pass and curfew offences in 1959. The police were repressive and corrupt as they took bribes from those who could pay their way to freedom.

Fast forward to 2010, 50 years later. Sharpeville is once more waging a struggle for survival. This time, "service delivery protests".

The year 1994 brought us democracy, a new Constitution and a new humanity yet our people are excluded as economic citizens.

Linked to service delivery is the quest for encumbered economic citizenship in order to actualise the right to life.

We have become content with the transfer of political power but wealth transfer has suffered an indefinite delay. In Standerton, one of the demands was for economic inclusion in the local mine.

The people of Sharpeville have demanded economic inclusion after a new shopping centre was built without any community involvement and benefit.

The local hall has been derelict for the last 15 years. The incomplete George Thabe stadium stands out as a lamentable failure. This after more than R22 million was reportedly used for its refurbishment.

The Dlomo dam is infested with sewage that spills into it, rendering it hazardous and unhygienic. Unlike in 1960 when the police answered the cry of the community of Sharpeville with a torrent of bullets, in this case, sensible agreements can be made only if there is a demonstration of leadership.

We must not behave like Benjamin Disraeli, who argued that "my idea of an agreeable person is a person who agrees with me".

The 50th Sharpeville Anniversary approaches as a great prelude to the World Cup. But the people of Sharpeville have little to show for the blood of their forebears that was shed for their freedom. But so far, they have neither regained their humanity nor seen progress. To them, Aluta Continua.

lThe writer is a director of the Pan African Foundation


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