Sharpeville: a name that rang around the world on 21 March 1960.

A protest by thousands of African men, women and children, called by the Pan Africanist Congress, was fired on by police. Shot and beaten, they left 69 dead and hundreds injured.

Sharpeville massacre

Apart from the famous image of the Sharpeville massacre above, by Ian Berry, these are some photographs that I have collected.

The peaceful protest had been against laws demanding that ‘passes’ be carried by all Africans restricting where they might (or might not!) live in their own country.


The massacre caused outrage around the world.  The British Labour Party called a massive protest that filled Trafalgar square on Monday 28th March 1960.

London demonstration Sharpeville 29 March 1960

The Labour Party responded by organising this rally in Trafalgar Square, attended by around 20,000 people – as shown in this picture of the rally on Monday, 28 March.

Speakers included African National Congress leader, Tennyson Makiwane, Labour’s Colonial Affairs spokesperson James Callaghan and Robert Willis from the TUC General Council.

The protest was a catalyst in launching the Anti-Apartheid Movement, in which the Labour Party played a major role.

In Cape Town the Pan Africanists organised mass demonstrations on Wednesday, 30 March 1960 that brought thousands marching from the African townships on the outskirts of the city to the police stations in the centre of town.

Cape Town March 30 1960 PAC demonstration

Philip Kgosana led the march of between 30,000-50,000 protestors from Langa and Nyanga to the police headquarters in Caledon Square.

The protesters offered themselves up for arrest for not carrying their passes. Police were temporarily paralyzed with indecision. Kgosana agreed to disperse the protestors if a meeting with J B Vorster, then Minister of Justice, could be secured. He was tricked into dispersing the crowd, only to be arrested by the police later that day.


The same year the leader of the African National Congress, Albert Luthuli, won the Nobel Peace Prize. Luthuli – who was banished to rural Natal –  had refused to sanction the use of violence to retaliate against the brutality the authorities had unleashed. It was only after a lengthy meeting with Nelson Mandela and Moses Kotane of the Communist Party, that he apparently changed his mind.

In 1961 that he was allowed to travel to Norway to accept it, with his wife Nokukhanya Bhengu. You can read his acceptance speech here.

Luthuli Nobel Prize 9 Dec 1961

In Britain the Anti-Apartheid movement grew and a young Liberal activist, Peter Hain led opposition to the cricket and ruby tours by the South African Springboks.

In 1971 he was still protesting, this time against Britain’s relations with the white rulers in Rhodesia. The event was a meeting between the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Ian Douglas Hume and the Rhodesian Prime Minister, Ian Smith.

Peter Hain demonstration 25 November 1971

The resistance to apartheid was to continue for another two decades, but in the end the campaigns whether in South Africa itself, or around the world, succeeded. Hain – now Lord Hain, and a Labour Peer, is still active, fighting corruption in South Africa.

In 1994 Nelson Mandela was finally sworn into office, the President of a free nation and the scourge of the institutional racism of apartheid was at an end.