This Day in History: Sharpeville Massacre
On March 21, 1960, South African police officers opened fire on a crowd of black protesters who had surrounded a police station in Sharpeville, killing 69 people.
The Sharpeville protests began over South Africa’s pass laws, which required black South Africans to carry passbooks with them any time they traveled out of their designated home areas. The African National Congress, the leading anti-apartheid organization of the era, planned for an antipass campaign to begin March 31, 1960. The Pan Africanist Congress, a more militant offshoot of the A.N.C., organized a campaign that would begin 10 days before the A.N.C.’s.
On March 21, Pan Africanist leaders in Sharpeville assembled a demonstration of 5,000 to 7,000 people, in part through intimidating locals to join. In the morning, they led the protest to the Sharpeville police station, where they demanded to be arrested for not carrying passes. Police reinforcements arrived during the incident.