While Sharpeville is internationally remembered, few remember what happened on 21st of March 1960 in Langa on the Cape Flats.
The Pan African Congress’ (PAC) Positive Action Campaign called on people to leave their pass books at home and march to local police stations. Residents of Langa, adhered to the call.
However, just like in Sharpeville, a meeting that started peacefully would end in tragedy. Thousands gathered at a spot currently called Washington Square. Also in the crowd was an inquisitive standard one boy, Sonwabo Williams.
“What I remember is that old people said there would be a meeting , only for the old people , so then we saw the tank coming inside Langa, we did not know what had happened, and all the children followed the army tank up to the flats.”
Leading the thousands was Philip Kgosana, a 23-year-old student and PAC leader.
At 63, Kgosana still has vivid memories of the day. “I felt so completely challenged to be able to respond to the call of our people who had supported our strike. It was too massive for me but I must say, although I was still young at the age of 23, I had probably more confidence then than I have today.”
To a young boy like Williams, Kgosana was a hero. “Kgosana was addressing the people, so since we were children, it was difficult for us to listen to what was happening,” said eye witness Williams.
The plan was to march peacefully to Langa Police Station, and turn themselves in for arrest, but the march was called off at the last moment.
Kgosana led a march of a 100 000 people hoping to see then Justice Minister JB Vorster.
Following the Sharpeville killings, police were on high alert, patrolling the streets and banning all public meetings. But later that evening, protesters slowly started gathering in Langa again.
“The police wanted to disperse the people and they started to shoot, and there were people on the flats,” said Williams. By the end of the day, three people were killed and many more were wounded.
Nine days later, Kgosana led a march of a 100 000 people to Parliament, hoping to see then Justice Minister JB Vorster.
That same day, a State of Emergency was declared, and the PAC and ANC were banned and these events changed the course of South African history.
“ Langa township and other surrounding townships happened to be the focal point of political party called the PAC under Robert Sobukwe which reflected a lot of hard work in organising the people and convincing the people about the correctness of opposing the pass laws, therefore Langa became the burning point of what was happening,” said Kgosana.
Today, the Langa Memorial honours the courage and sacrifices of those who fought for that change. The Centre plays a role in the memorialization of South Africa’s history.
“There was 100 000 people with Philip Kgosana in the lead, marching to parliament, to town, to caledon square, a massive march, unprecedented and then what happened, that had became the turning point for both the PAC and ANC where there was this reckoning that we have to take up the armed struggle, ” said Director of the Human Right’s Media Centre Shirley Gunn.
The centre reminds residents of the integral role Langa played.
Today, Williams finds it sad that the younger generation doesn’t truly grasp the historical value of that day. But his memories are still fresh, and he often thinks of those days.