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Thoughts about 21 March 1960 – did the heroes of Sharpeville die in vain?


Omry Makgoale is a rank and file member of the ANC. These are his personal views.

As we visit the graves in Sharpeville as an annual pilgrimage on 21 March 2023, Humans Rights Day, the question is how far are we from achieving the dreams for which the heroes of Sharpeville died for?

As we mark 63 years after the fateful day at Sharpeville when 69 anti-pass protesters were massacred by the apartheid police under Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, the then prime minister, we need to revisit what they died for. Are the goals for which they died achieved?

An estimated 5,000 protesters marched to the Sharpeville Police Station requesting to be arrested for walking the streets without “passes”. The police panicked, and shot and killed demonstrators. The demonstrators’ crime was they dared to protest against the pass laws, the dompas – the identification document meant for black people only.

As we visit the graves in Sharpeville as an annual pilgrimage on 21 March 2023, Humans Rights Day, the question is how far are we from achieving the dreams for which the heroes of Sharpeville died for?

We no longer carry “passes” today and we have supposedly one of the best Constitutions in the world – except we have a flawed parliamentary Electoral Law. The current parliamentary electoral law as it has been since 1993 does not allow the citizens to directly elect their Members of Parliament by name, where they live.

The citizens do not have the right to directly elect their president, their premiers and mayors where they live, even though this right was enjoyed by whites only, under apartheid. For whatever reasons, current politicians thought that what was good for whites only under apartheid is not good for black people. The exclusion of allowing the citizens of South Africa the right to directly elect their Members of Parliament for themselves is the fundamental flaw, creating a “State of Disaster” in this “state of corruption”, as a result.

Since the dawn of democracy in 1994, the past 30 years have seen the decline of the SA economy, the destruction of rail infrastructure, destruction of Eskom, Transnet, Prasa, South African Airways, Denel, PetroSA, Post Office and water treatment plants, with raw sewage flowing into the rivers and beaches.

After 1994, Bantu Education was replaced with a two-tier education system – one for the rich and one for the poor. The rich and the ANC elite – which includes ministers, directors-general and tenderpreneurs – take their children to private schools, getting what is equal to the best education in the world. But the ordinary citizens, the masses, the poor – all are left at the mercy of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) offering the worst education imaginable.

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According to research by Professor Sarah Howie, the National Research Coordinator for Progress in International Reading Literacy Study South Africa, 78% of Grade 4s cannot read and write with understanding in any language in these public schools.

Under the current education system for the masses, a majority of the children are encouraged to do literacy mathematics instead of proper mathematics, with a worse still pass mark of a meagre 30%. The members of Sadtu have been seriously damaging the country’s prosperity, living standards and our future.

According to a University of Stellenbosch report, some schools in Limpopo province even obtained a 0% pass rate in the National Senior Certificate exams in 2020. The respective education ministers and the education subcommittees have been a disaster for the country. It has been proven that we perform more poorly compared with Tanzania and Zimbabwe. How can we compete with China and Singapore, relying on Sadtu for our education?

It is the education for a failed state, open for takeover by the powerful in the world. Is there any benefit in having a highly admired Constitution under these conditions? What is the point of the Constitution if we, the people of South Africa, do not use the Constitution to demand a proper democratic Electoral Act so that we as voters can ensure the election of Members of Parliament we can trust, and remove them at the next election if they fail us?

It is our own responsibility to demand a new Electoral Act that gives us the power we lack – the power to choose leaders of integrity, by our own choice, in order to minimise corruption in society.

South Africa is collapsing today under the pressure of corruption with Eskom experiencing the worst load shedding in the country’s history, being run by cartels siphoning off an estimated R1-billion every month, according to the former Eskom CEO André De Ruyter. How long can South Africa survive? The police, the Hawks and Crime Intelligence are all malfunctioning; street lights and traffic light cables are uprooted and sold for scrap materials; potholes are gaping in the roads; and stormwater drains are blocked by construction debris and dead animals. What went wrong?

It is our own fault. We have allowed this to happen, and it is up to us to reform and change.

As we remember the heroes of Sharpeville, we remember them in darkness with load shedding and raw sewage flowing into the Vaal River.

To recover the country, we must directly elect our Members of Parliament by name, where we live. Let the voters of Sharpeville choose their MPs themselves. It is a right that the heroes of Sharpeville died for. The right to vote for their Members of Parliament, the right to vote for their premiers in the provinces and the right to vote for their mayors.

We need more democracy in South Africa. In memory of the Heroes of Sharpeville, let us have the courage to stand up for ourselves. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Yes. So did Steve Biko, the Cradock Four and many others.

  • R S says:

    The short answer is yes. Our liberators have become our oppressors.

  • Alistair McCreath says:

    At last a member of the ANC who tells it like it is, only question is how can such understanding & intelligence equate to membership in a criminal party like the ANC. These are the questions that are asked so often but never answered. South Africa has a plethora of young skilled intelligent people why oh why do we have the problems we have, Simple answer. The criminal useless incompetent ANC goverment

    • virginia crawford says:

      It’s beyond me how anyone with a shred of integrity can be a member of the ANC. Sentimentality and loyalty, those devious emotions, perhaps?

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    But the ANC you are a rank and file member of won’t allow the democracy you and I want, Omry. In fact, the ANC’s own voting mechanisms are untransparent and undemocratic; how do you think Cyril got to lead? No, sorry, Omry, the beloved and unlovely ANC must be reborn, but the current leadership is the devil of a curse. Sharpeville Day, then is a lament and an ode to what could have been had the greedy ANC not stood in the way of real emancipation (a better life for all) and the democratic project. So Viva, ANC, Viva is a damp squib on Sharpeville Day. Sadly.

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    There are basically two different democratic electoral systems: direct majority voting and relative proportional voting. Both systems are equivalent and both have advantages and disadvantages. Look at the UK or
    USA on one side and Italy or Germany on the other. Regardless of the electoral system, a successful democracy depends on how well democratic values ​​are anchored in the electorate and how the electorate manages its rights and obligations. An electorate that is unable to vote out an incompetent governing majority, an electorate that allows state institutions and corporations to be co-opted by criminal structures, such an electorate has only itself to blame if it will one day be deprived of its democratic rights . However, the electoral system as such can never be held responsible if a democratically elected government fails to set up a fair education system over decades. Rather, we should all ask ourselves how important democratic values ​​are to us and what we can do to preserve them. By the way: changing the electoral law requires a parliamentary majority. What interest should the current majority have in changing this?

  • Barrie Lewis says:

    Yes, teachers in general and SADTU in particular should take a lot of the blame.

    But this author has no understanding that a very large proportion of our children’s poor performance, perhaps even more than the incompetence and laziness of many SADTU members, is due to the fact that at least 50% of children in many villages in South Africa are permanently stunted, mentally and or physically; as in cannot be fixed no matter how good their diet is later in life.

    Even the best teachers in the world cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. And not a word from the Departments of Health or Education.

    Which does not detract from Makgoale’s point; the Sharpeville 69 did die in vain. Black South African children were probably better off in Apartheid schools than they are today. Is that’s just a (racist?) rant. Who has the statistics?

    • David Forbes says:

      It’s not a racist rant Barrie, but, as the French say, c’est complique!” I think one also has to remember that it took the British (for example) hundreds of years to learn how to rule. The ANC has had to do in less than 30 years. I make no excuses for them, they could have done enormously better, but education is key to a better future, and good nutrition is key to getting a good education! With so much money wasted on the Arms Deal, corruption etc, there is little left for proper education. But also, we need to bear in mind the huge, and I mean HUGE, illegal financial outflows from SA by big business. Personally, I think that if we had direct representation, no political parties, just community reps elected by their own communities and sitting in a National Assembly, with compulsory voting (as in Australia), elections every 2-3 years, and public annual audits of every public official, we would have very little corruption, and a huge amount of money to spend on decent education, housing, health and community policing. Agreed?

      • Cecilia Wedgwood says:

        Good thinking.I like those thoughts.

      • Dietmar Horn says:

        It is precisely such dreams of a perfect system that can never come true and that prevent us from starting where we can really make an impact. People are who they are. Therefore, there is no perfect party, no perfect government, no perfect opposition, and no perfect directly elected representative. Crucial is a basic consensus that criminal, corrupt behavior will be relentlessly sanctioned. Mutual respect and the honest will to balance interests are crucial. It is crucial that a failed government is voted out after two legislative periods at the latest.

  • David Forbes says:

    Those who can’t understand how people with integrity can still be members of the ANC never “grew up in that family” under apartheid. I refused to become a member in the 1970s because I disagreed with the contradictory principle of “democratic centralism”. But I also believe that a counter-revolution was effected in all those pre-1994 meetings, and that the SA democratic project was “captured”. This is what has destroyed the character of the ANC and led to the compromise that was the negotiations process. So those of us who believed the ANC would liberate SA were betrayed. With regard to Sharpeville, the figures of 69 dead and 178 injured have been proven by recent USA academic research in SA to be police lies. The true figures are AT LEAST 80 dead and 297 injured. The police did not “panic”. There were four Saracen armoured cars, and 77 armed cops in front of them, 12 with Sten sub-machine guns. Then 1400 bullets were fired in less than a single minute. Three unborn babies are killed with two of the mothers. At least nine kids are shot dead. Within 20 minutes the cops pile most of the bodies into police vans and rush them away from the eyes of the arriving journalists and photographers. A huge cover-up ensues. And today, Sharpeville is much the same as it was then. It has been neglected largely because it was a PAC march, and due to local government incompetence. So, no cause to celebrate. We need to change the system, and quickly.

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