Dr. Motsoko Pheko

March 21 – Day Of Destiny – Many Want To know It. Others Want It Unknown

March 21 is Day of Destiny soaked with blood of African martyrs for true liberation. On that world-shaking day, the African people of Azania (South Africa) led by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC); through the Sharpeville Uprising sent an unprecedented anti-colonial message to the world and to the colonial oppressors themselves. That message changed South African politics and the thinking of the world drastically, dramatically and irreversibly.

March 21st is the revolutionary day through which the PAC influenced the United Nations to declare March 21st International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This is the day on which the Pan Africanist Congress laid the foundation for the expulsion of South Africa from the United Nations. It is through the PAC revolutionary action on March 21st 1960 that this day was named Sharpeville Day. This is the day the whole of Africa and the whole world recognised as the symbol of the African liberation struggle and incomparable watershed.

                             What Sparked Off The PAC Anti-Pass Campaign?

Africans in South Africa could not move in their own country without producing a pass whenever and wherever the police stopped them and demanded it. For failing to produce a pass Africans in their own land; were imprisoned or sent out as convicted criminals to work on the farms of colonial settlers.

On these farms they were badly beaten up and ill-treated. Scores of farms were full of skeletons of Africans who had been beaten to death. The farmers wanted production. Any African who was “slow” was beaten to death to force him to be productive. The pass law was a mark of slavery.

Africans lived in fear. Scores of tragedies occurred in many African homes. There were recorded deaths in which people braved raging flames of fire in burning homes to rescue the “dompass” as Africans called it.

One such tragedy in which two men died attracted a sarcastic article from an African journalist, Mathew Nkoane.  He wrote, “It is not heroism and certainly not bravado that can take a man to his death in an attempt to save a pass. The motive is simply fear –the realisation of what his life will be worth without a “dompass.” For a passbook has ceased to be a mere form of identification. It is interchangeable with the man himself…the man has less dignity, less claim to official recognition, than the pass….

Whenever I see a police constable looking at me, the lifting of his eyes is at once adequate to make me understand that the sheer physical part of my existence is now called to question. My life is nothing without a passbook. As long as this is the case, obviously more of us will die in hell-fires in future saving passbooks from fire – our souls!”

It was this slave mentality that the Pan Africanist Congress leaders said it was their task to get rid of. There was opposition to the PAC campaign against the inhuman pass laws. The writer of CONTACT Magazine, Patrick Duncan has written, “No one outside the Pan Africanist Congress was sure how seriously to take the PAC anti-pass campaign. The African National Congress (ANC) [of Nelson Mandela] derided the campaign. The white press largely ignored the PAC campaign.”

CONTACT, a publication of white liberals put the story of the Pan Africanist Congress at the bottom of page 2. It was headlined only a few weeks away….

The ANC was hostile to the PAC campaign. It tried to sabotage it. The Secretary-General, Duma Nokwe issued a media statement in the Sunday Times of 20th March 1960, just a few hours from the start of the Pan Africanist Congress campaign on March 21st.”

The statement read, “We must avoid sensational actions which might not succeed, because we realise that it is treacherous to the liberation movement to embark on a campaign which has not been properly prepared and which has no prospects of success.”

                                  PAC Launch Of The Positive Action Campaign

Well, the Pan Africanist Congress was in a defiant mood. President Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe left his lectureship job at Witwatersrand University. On behalf of the PAC he declared: “Sons and Daughters of the soil, on March 21st, we launch our positive action campaign against the pass laws. Exactly, at 7.a.m. we launch. Oh, yes, we launch. There is no doubt about it, all over the country. We have reached the cross roads. We have crossed our historical Rubicon. Izwe Lethu! The Land Is Ours! Afrika!

During the Uprising in Sharpeville, Langa and other many places on March 21; the apartheid colonialist regime’s police shot and killed 83 Africans and wounded 364 throughout the country. It arrested PAC leaders including Dr. Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe and Potlako K. Leballo, the PAC Secretary-General.

But the Pan Africanist Congress had now plunged the apartheid colonial regime in a crisis.Soon after 21st 1960, the apartheid colonial Prime Minister Hendrick F. Verwoerd was shot as an attempted assassination. He was whisked off to a hospital. Paul Sauer took over the reins of government for the period of Verwoerds’s recuperation.

Commenting on the PAC campaign later, Paul Sauer said: “The old book of South African history was closed a month ago….For the immediate future South Africa will have to reconsider in earnest and honestly her whole approach to the Native question.”

The apartheid colonial regime declared a state of emergency in the country. It suspended the pass laws. The PAC had thrown the economy of the country into the doldrums. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry handed a memorandum to the colonial regime. In part it read:

“The immediate cost has been loss of life, loss of production, general unrest, and general diversion of our manpower to military service. Far more serious is the loss of confidence among investors in South Africa abroad, resulting in the withdrawal of capital and cancellation of business projects that were under favourable consideration, the potential loss of people through emigration and reduced immigration, the damage that the economy as a result of mounting international disapproval of the policies being followed in South Africa, which are widely believed to have caused the present crisis.”

                               Pan Africanist Congress A Historical Exception

Despite what has been a deliberate suppression of information about this turning point in the history of this country; albeit high-jacked by America in April 1994; let me close by quoting the following informed people:

  1. Prof. Bernard Leeman a British academic has written, “In the aftermath of Sharpeville Uprising, Whites flocked to the Canadian and Australian High Commission Offices in Pretoria. They enquired about emigration. Many Whites bought guns. The helmeted troops patrolled the streets. In a single day the Pan Africanist Congress had changed South Africa forever.”
  2. Frantz Fanon a man with impeccable revolutionary credentials has written, “Sharpeville shook public opinion for months, in newspapers, over the wavelengths, and in private conversations. It is through that, that men and women in the world became acquainted with the problem of apartheid South Africa.”
  3. Prof. Tom Lodge commented on the armed wing of the Pan Africanist Congress which was formed in South Africa. “The military wing of the PAC, POQO not only inspired activities in South Africa, but , the Pan Africanist insurgents were very much numerous, than Umkhonto[of the ANC]…in terms of geography extensiveness, the numbers involved and its time span
  4. This professor has recorded that, “In November 1974 lobbyists succeeded in obtaining the expulsion of South Africa from the United Nations and in 1975, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Meeting in Kampala adopted as official policy a long document prepared by the PAC arguing for the illegality of South Africa’s status.
  5. Finally, it is appropriate to remind that a prominent African scholar at Fort Hare University Prof. Z.K. Matthews who was one time an ANC Treasurer: wrote in the IMVO newspaper. He has recorded that, “The Pan Africanist Congress is an historical exception. It broke away from the ANC [over colonial dispossession of the African which the ANC has not resolved after 25 years of rule]. It launched the well-known Sharpeville Uprising which had unique national and international significance and changed the cause of political history in this country….The PAC launched the most significant movement for South Africa’s isolation.”END

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