day that changed sa radically

ON March 21 we must, as before, educate especially the young about the price that was paid by ordinary people to bring us the freedom we enjoy today.

All of us must understand what the saying means - freedom was not free! - and therefore that all efforts should be made to protect the freedom's gains.

Strangely, the then British prime minister Harold Macmillan served as harbinger of the storm that burst over Sharpeville and Langa on March 21 1960.

Macmillan was in our country to join HF Verwoerd's white minority regime to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Union of South Africa.

Fifty years earlier, British imperialism had handed political power to the white South African minority and thus planted the landmine that exploded in Sharpeville.

Britain did this despite the protests of the leaders of our country's nascent liberation movement against the institutionalisation of white minority domination.

The South African Native Convention held in Bloemfontein on March 24 to 26 1909, which discussed the draft Act of Union, said:

"It has been well said that the King and the Empire owe good and just government to every class of their subjects, but no such good or just government is possible, where one class is left at the mercy of another class by being absolutely deprived of the right of equal representation, which is a fundamental obligation."

The convention sent a delegation to London to present its views to the House of Commons, which had the authority to approve or reject the Act of Union.

Earlier, in 1906, a resolution adopted on April 10, 1906 by the then South African Native Congress, said: "Congress desires to impress upon the Home (British) Government . the obligation of surrendering nothing of vital importance to the natives to the prevalent cry of 'no interference' on the part of the capitalist Press, which dominates the situation in South Africa and claims to voice public opinion.

"Much has been made of the numerical preponderance of the natives of this country . to impress upon British statesmen and the imperial authorities the need of unity among the white races in order to present a solid front against the imaginary bogey of a colossal native combination (the so-called 'swart gevaar') to oust the whites from South Africa.

"Much has been made of the outcry of Ethiopianism, (African nationalism), and all sorts of charges have been laid at the door of this new feature . Congress believes that Ethiopianism is a symptom of progress, brought about by the contact of the natives of Africa with European civilisation, making it felt in all departments of the social, religious, and economic structure."

British imperial power ignored all this and authorised the imposition of white minority rule in the Union.

But then, when he addressed the all-white South African parliament on February 3, 1960, Macmillan said:

"The wind of change is blowing through this continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it . We've got to come to terms with it . What is now on trial (in light of the East-West conflict) is much more than our military strength or our diplomatic and administrative skill. It is our way of life."

Half-a-century after British imperialism had refused to heed the voice of South African "Ethiopianism", its eminent representative felt obliged to tell the beneficiaries of the Act of Union that in 1960 they had to bend to the wind of change or face being broken by its strength.

However, these beneficiaries of the Act of Union rejected this advice, convinced that their 'military strength' was sufficient to ward off the 'wind of change' of which Macmillan spoke.

A month-and-a-half after Macmillan had spoken in Cape Town, apartheid demonstrated its 'military strength' by opening fire at Sharpeville against unarmed demonstrators, and therefore, against the unstoppable liberation movement whose time Macmillan said had come.

The deaths in Sharpeville changed the political situation in our country radically and permanently. Our national liberation movement repositioned itself to achieve the defeat of white minority rule through its own actions and of the oppressed masses.

After the Sharpeville Massacre gradually the world community of nations, including the British, united in action to support the South African liberation struggle.

Responding to a call by the PAC, our people gathered in front of police stations on March 21, 1960 to demand the abolition of the 'pass', denounced as 'a badge of slavery'. However, those who died on that day opened the way to the abolition of slavery.

When we convene to celebrate Human Rights Day, we should also pay tribute to the martyrs whose sacrifice made it possible to establish a constitutional and political system dedicated to the protection and advancement of human rights of South Africans.

When we do this, we must ask ourselves - are we doing everything we can to honour the memory of the martyrs of Sharpeville?