From a massacre in apartheid South Africa to ‘feel good’ multiculturalism: The dark history of Harmony Day

By Ahmed Yussuf

Posted Tue 21 Mar 2023 at 5:15am

It was the early hours of the morning, on March 21, 1960, when a crowd began to coalesce outside a police station in the South African township of Sharpeville.

The peaceful protesters were calling for the removal of the so-called “pass laws”, an apartheid system that forced Black South Africans to carry an internal passport which meant they could not travel freely through the country. 

Organisers had urged demonstrators to leave their passes at home, which was against the law, positing that it wouldn’t be possible to arrest thousands of people. Outside the station, some of the demonstrators burnt their documents on bonfires. 

By lunchtime, the crowd had grown to thousands of people. Hundreds of police officers had also gathered, but for the most part, first-hand accounts suggest the mood was peaceful.

Exactly what triggered the shift is unclear. What we know is that chaos and confusion took over and an officer opened fire. His colleagues then followed. 

Sixty-nine unarmed protesters were killed and hundreds more were injured in what would later become known as the Sharpeville massacre.  Read more…

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