What caused the Sharpeville Massacre?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The 1960 Sharpeville Massacre was the result of a peaceful protest regarding racist South African policies of apartheid.  The enforcement of Pass Laws and the reissue of laws that restricted the movement of Black Africans in White areas in South Africa initiated a protest in Sharpeville.  Pan African Congressional Leaders assembled close to 5,000 protesters to bring attention to such unfairness.  The intent of the protest was for the South African government to rethink their Apartheid policies and abolish such practices.  The protest mood was more "festive than belligerent" as the crowd moved towards the police station.  It is here in which the response moved into the realm where the massacre was evident. 

The police response to the protest became the primary cause of the massacre.  The police assembled and used disproportionate responses to the protest.  The use of low flying aircraft to seek to break the crowd up would be one such measure.  The police's response to the stone throwing of the crowds was the use of armored cars and shooting on protesters.  Many of the protesters were shot in the back, indicating that they were trying to run away from the police and were still pursued.  The reports of men, women, and children running from the police presence "like rabbits" only feeds the imagery of their being gunned down in such a callous and cruel manner.  This brutality is only emphasized by the police commissioner's statements about what happened in Sharpeville:  "It started when hordes of natives surrounding the police station...If they do these things, they must learn their lessons the hard way."  In this statement, one can see the lack of regard for the life of Black South Africans, one in which state sanctioned violence can lead to massacre so easily.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial