International 21 March event to commemorate the Sharpeville Massacre

Marc Wadsworth

New research has proved that at least 80 people - many of them youths - were murdered by South Africa’s racist apartheid police 63 years ago this month in what became known as the Sharpeville Massacre. Officials at the time lied that the figure was 69 as part of a big state cover-up.

The damning findings by American scholars says that, in addition, 297 people were seriously injured at Sharpeville when officers with submachine guns opened fire on peaceful, unarmed protestors outside a police station, many of whom were shot in the back as they ran away. It was a demonstration called by the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania against the hated pass laws that forced Black people to either carry identity cards or be thrown in jail.

T o commemorate the massacre, which shocked the world and helped to eventually crush apartheid and usher in Black majority rule, UN chiefs made 21 March its Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. So, that’s the date when The Liberation Movement (TLM) holds an international event.

This year TLM is doing a Zoom meeting, which will feature a stellar line-up of speaker. The keynote speech will be given by Tsoana Nhlapo, the leader of the Sharpeville Foundation in South Africa. Cementing TLM’s commitment to having trade unions at its core, Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack and Unison vice-president Amerit Rait are also in the line-up. Last year Bakers’ union general secretary Sarah Woolley spoke.

There’s a Sharpeville monument in Brixton’s Windrush Square, put up by Linda Bellos, the Labour Party Black Sections vice-chair, after she was Lambeth council leader in 1987. It was the momentous year when four Black Sections members, Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng, Bernie Grant and Keith Vaz, made history by being elected to a previously all-white British parliament, which made it no different to South Africa’s parliament at the time.

Racism and inequality have never been starker in Britain and abroad.

Government hostile environment policies continue to scapegoat migrants, refugees, and the Muslim community, including Britain's appalling #RefugeeBanBill.

The Liberation Movement (TLM) believes the fightback must be led by people of colour, who are at the sharp end of such hatred.

Unity with allies in organisations, including trade unions, community, and faith groups, is essential.

TLM stands with high-profile influencers like football's Gary Lineker, who’ve shown courage speaking out against the British government’s “immeasurably cruel” new asylum seekers policy and its peddling of divisive “invasion” and other rhetoric “not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 1930s”. He and other critics have bravely filled the resistance vacuum created by cowardly politicians and their client mainstream media.

From the Grenfell Tower fire and other such disasters, the Windrush Caribbean migrants scandal to the Covid pandemic, we have seen a heavier impact on Africans, Asians, Caribbeans and other people of colour.

Among the TLM Zoom meeting speakers will be leading campaigner against the deaths of Black people in custody Ajibola Lewis, of the United Families and Friends Campaign, who will talk about the brutal death of her son, Seni Lewis, at the hands of 11 police officers in a hospital.  It would have been Seni’s 36th birthday on 22 March. There’s now a Seni’s law to reduce the use of force against patients in mental health units, as a result of Ajibola’s tireless campaigning.

PhD student of British Black politics Leonard Butingan, will speak from across the Atlantic to provide an American perspective. Suresh Grover, founder of the highly-regarded anti-racism champions The Monitoring Group, who took over the organising of the Justice for Stephen Lawrence Campaign from me in the 1990s, will provide British insights. It’s 30 years since Stephen, a Black teenager, was murdered by racist thugs. I managed to get Nelson Mandela to meet his parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, in London - an event that turned the campaign into an international cause célèbre. It led to two of Stepehn’s murderers being put in prison for life.

Other speakers at the online meeting will be Voice newspaper editor Lester Holloway, who was previously the TUC’s Anti-Racism Taskforce officer, Elda Cordoso, a Brazilian representative in Britain of President Lula election campaign and Windrush Generation Legacy Association chief Deborah Klass. It’s most appropriate Deborah is speaking as this year is the 75th anniversary of the iconic Empire Windrush ship, carrying almost 500 Caribbean mainly ex-servicemen, including my father, coming to Britain.

It’s a shame some other prominent British anti-racism campaigners don’t even mention Sharpeville in their publicly for events they organise around this important date. My guess is, that’s because, unlike TLM, they’re not Black-led. In this regard, TLM has loaned the slogan: Nothing about us, without us.”

Moderators for the TLM Zoom meeting will be Cllr Hassan Ahmed, a leading Nottingham councillor and co-chair of Grassroots Black Left and Deborah Hobson, national co-ordinator of The Liberation Movement and a prominent trade union activist.

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