From a plaque at the Sharpeville Memorial Centre: “To control the influx of Blacks into the cities and towns of South Africa the government had made it obligatory for them to carry reference books at all times. These books authorised them to live and work in towns. This law was introduced to restrict access to the industrial areas and so lowering the risk of creating vast slum areas of unemployed people.
On the evening of 20 March 1960, members of the PAC moved from house to house in Sharpeville asking residents to join a protest march the following morning. The PAC had asked township residents throughout South Africa to gather outside police stations on 21 March 1960 without their “dompasses” and demand to be arrested. This march was to be led by the PAC President, Mr Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe.
On the morning of 21 March 1960, a strong crowd had gathered in Seeiso Street in front of the Sharpeville police station. The situation was tense as many of the policemen were facing a crowd situation for the first time. Saracens were stationed in the immediate area and jets flew overhead. The crowd were singing songs and chanting “Izwe Lethu” (our country) and showing the “Afrika salute”.
Events moved rapidly from there. It is said that a scuffle broke out at the wire fence surrounding the police station and a policeman started to pull his trigger. From there a domino effect ensued. Shots were fired for 10 to 30 seconds. The crown fled. Moments later 69 people lay dead and 180 people were wounded. On the autopsy report it was found that many of the deceased were shot in the back.
After the tragedy it was thought that South Africa was on the brink of a revolution. Overseas investors withdrew money from the country; gunshots sold out and the ANC and PAC were banned.”