076_G17_CWN

Global_17

commonwealth network 76 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2014 global The Long View Massacre heralds start of South Africa’s alienation from the Commonwealth As apartheid began to take hold of South Africa during the 1950s, other African countries were moving in the opposite direction with their newly gained independence. But the country’s unrepentant attitude to a brutal massacre in 1960 was the turning point that saw other Commonwealth countries feel compelled to break away from the usual protocol of not discussing other nations’ internal affairs Stuart Mole The large African crowd that gathered outside the police station in the Transvaal township of Sharpeville was peaceful, unarmed and expectant. Having come together to protest against the pass laws, a rumour had spread that an important person – possibly the Commissioner for Bantu Affairs – was due to make an announcement at 14:00. Throughout the morning, the small detachment at the police station had been steadily reinforced. This had included the arrival of four Saracen armoured cars, nosing their way through the crowd. Some arrests were made without particular incident. When Lieutenant Colonel Pienaar lined up his now near 300 men and instructed them to load their weapons, many assumed this to be a ceremonial welcome for the expected VIP. Even the shout of ‘Skiet!’ and the sound of gunfire did not alarm some, who assumed blanks were being used. Only as bullets ripped through the crowd did men, women and children turn in panic and run for their lives. The massacre of Sharpeville had begun. When the firing finished – after many of the police, some armed with Sten guns, had reloaded or changed to fresh weapons – 67 Africans lay dead and 186 were wounded. Of the fatalities, 70 per cent had been shot in the back. It was Monday 21 March 1960, and the day was not yet over. At the subsequent Commission of Inquiry into the shootings, Colonel Pienaar was asked why he did not give the crowd any kind of warning, or call upon them to disperse. He replied that “time did not permit that”. Asked if he could have asked a deputy to make an announcement on his behalf, he responded: “I could have, I did


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