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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist


SA townships’ shared history of state repression

'There has been controversy regarding which historic events should be commemorated and which ones are being left out,' says political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga.


Sharpeville near Vereeniging and Langa in Uitenhage may be kilometres apart, but the two South African townships share the historic parallel of being on the receiving end of state repression – within 25 years of apartheid rule.

At least 69 people were killed and 180 others were injured in Sharpeville on 21 March, 1960 when police opened fire on unarmed black civilians protesting against apartheid pass laws – the eve of the declaration of the country’s first state of emergency.

Twenty-five years later – on 21 March, 1985, which marked the anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre, police opened fire on a crowd of mourners gathered on Maduna Road between Uitenhage and Langa township in the Eastern Cape.

Thirty five people were killed, on the eve of another declaration of a state of emergency. While comparisons have been drawn between Sharpeville and Langa, the marking of Human Rights Day has seen the events that took place at Langa remembered less, if not overshadowed by Sharpeville.

Commenting on these two turning points in SA history, independent political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga said: “There has been controversy regarding which historic events should be commemorated and which ones are being left out.

“I think this shows that the country’s history is more contested, with different views being presented on how to reflect on the past.

“While it is the future that seems to matter, it seems to be the past over which nations are willing to differ.

“I think that South Africans, including academics, should discuss their history and how to reflect on it, with different views being encouraged.”

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