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1960: Scores die in Sharpeville shoot-out

More than 50 black people were killed when police opened fire on a "peaceful" protest in the South African township of Sharpeville.

Eye-witnesses said men, women and children fled 'like rabbits' as up to 300 officers began randomly shooting into a 5,000-strong crowd outside the municipal offices in Sharpeville.

Scores of injured have been taken to Baragwanath hospital near Johannesburg suffering gun-shot wounds.

It is not yet clear why the police, in armoured vehicles, opened fire at approximately 1315 local time today, although it is understood some protesters had been stone-throwing.

Non-violent campaign

Between 5,000 and 7,000 people had gathered at Sharpeville police station to protest against the pass laws, which they claim are designed by an apartheid government to seriously restrict their movement in white areas.

The laws, which require all black men and women to carry reference books containing their personal details including name, tax code and employer details, have this year been extended to all black women as well as men.

The law states that anyone found in a public place without their book will be arrested and detained for up to 30 days.

PAC leader, Robert Subukwe, said today's march was intended to be the first of a five-day, non-violent campaign by black Africans to persuade the government to abolish the laws.

The aim was for all black Africans to leave their pass books at home and present themselves at police stations for arrest.

This, said Mr Subukwe, would cause prisons to become overcrowded, labour to dry up and the economy to grind to a halt.

But three hours after it began, the 'peaceful' gathering had turned into a blood-bath.

It is understood police attempted to disperse the crowd with a squadron of low-flying aircraft before drafting in extra reinforcements.

Police Commander D H Pienaar said: "It started when hordes of natives surrounding the police station.

"If they do these things, they must learn their lessons the hard way."

In Context
Following the Sharpeville massacre, as it came to be known, the death toll rose to 69 and the number of injuries to 180.

In the following days 77 Africans, many of whom were still in hospital, were arrested for questioning - most were later released.

On 24 March the government banned all public meetings in 24 magisterial districts of South Africa and on April 8 the PAC and the African National Congress (ANC) were banned and a state of emergency was declared in the country.

The following September 224 people lodged civil claims against the government but the government responded by introducing the Indemnity Act which relieved all officials of any responsibility for the Sharpeville atrocities.

No police officer involved in the massacre was ever convicted.


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