On March 21, 1960, a group of over one hundred policemen in Sharpeville fired on a large group of black South African protesters. The immediate result of this action was the deaths of 69 protesters and over 180 injuries. The action had far reaching implications for the government of South Africa, both domestically and internationally. Within the borders of South Africa, outrage was at a fevered pitch and the event led to widespread strikes, protests and riots across the country. A state of emergency was declared and over 180,000 political protesters were arrested.
Two African organizations that were fighting for justice in South Africa were the Pan-Africanist Congress and the African National Congress. These groups largely organized around the principles of civil disobedience. The events of Sharpeville led to these groups forming military wings in their organizations to execute a more aggressive and violent agenda. Both groups were subsequently declared illegal by the government of South Africa.
The greatest impact of this event was on the international scene. The event marked a turning point in South Africa’s history as the outrage around the world had the effect of isolating the country. The violence of this day brought attention to the plight of blacks in South Africa. The United Nations condemned the actions of the police in Resolution 134 and demanded better treatment of black people in South Africa. The United States was forced to examine its treatment of African-Americans as this happened during a seminal period of the civil rights movement.
The importance of this day in South African history is not lost in modern South Africa as it is celebrated as a holiday to remember the victims and the remind its citizens of the importance of human rights.