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Listed as a struggle memorial, the Sharpeville Human Rights Precinct commemorates those who fell during a protest that took place in Sharpeville in 1960. Sharpeville is located in the Gauteng Province and the precinct was unveiled in 2001 by Nelson Mandela.
The tragic events that unfolded at Sharpeville on the 21st March 1960 was to be a major turning point in South Africa’s history. On that day, a few hundred people marched to the Sharpeville police station to protest the carrying of passes. This pass was required by all non-white citizens to be carried when venturing outside of their designated areas. The peaceful march soon turned violent and the police subsequently fired on the crowd, killing 69 and injuring 180 people. The apartheid government immediately declared a state of emergency and banned several political organisations and in response to the deaths and actions of the government, international leaders shunned the country’s leadership and began the process of implementing sanctions on South Africa. Six years later, the United Nations declared the 21st March as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and in South Africa, the day is celebrated as Human Rights Day.
As you enter the Sharpeville Human Rights Precinct – directly opposite the police station where the incident took place – you are greeted by a poignant wall containing the names of those who died during the massacre, all of whom are buried at the nearby cemetery. There is an exhibition centre and 69 pillars mounted for the 69 killed. Lawn terraces lead to a small amphitheatre with a poem inscribed on the wall.
Nelson Mandela signed the South African Constitution and Bill of Rights in Sharpeville in 1996 to remind the world of the tragedy and show how far we have come since then as a unified nation.