The PAC became a rival of the ANC in terms of support in the late 1950s and this led to strong competition. Therefore, when the ANC announced that they were planning an anti-pass campaign on the 31 March 1960, the PAC decided to spearhead their efforts by planning a similar protest for the 21 March.
The anti-pass campaign turned out to be very important for the PAC and for South African politics in general. The date for the campaign was finalised on March 18, and set for 21 March 1960. The weekend was spent handing out pamphlets about the campaign and appealing to supporters to voluntarily leave their passes at home and offer themselves up for arrest at the nearest police station on 21 March. Protests took place in Sharpeville and in the Western Cape in townships such as Langa.
Marches as part of Positive Action Campaign
Letlape Mphahlele, PAC president explains the historical context
The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) planned, organised and led marches on March 21 as part of its Positive Action Campaign. Only PAC leaders were arrested on that fateful day. It’s beyond debate as to which political party masterminded the historic March 21st. However, attempts have been made to separate March 21st from the PAC.
Lest we forget that initially March 21 was not included in the list of South African official holidays. It took a lot of lobbying and arguing by the PAC and the progressive forces to declare March 21st a public holiday. Even then, the day was declared Human Rights Day.
The PAC argued, and still argues that the day should be called “Sharpeville/Langa Day”. Just like Martin Luther King Day in the US.
This dilution of history is aimed at downgrading the pivotal role the PAC played in changing the course of history. As PAC we commemorate the day as opposed to celebrating it. It is insensitive to celebrate a massacre under any disguise, including human rights disguise.
On March 21, at 07h00, the PAC will stage a commemoration in Sharpeville, at Sharpeville Memorial Hall, near the site of shootings. Another commemoration will be in Cape Town, at Langa Complex Hall, at 07h00. We will also share stage with President Jacob Zuma in Kliptown, Soweto.
The PAC has earmarked this day to re-unveil the tombstone of the man who led the anti-pass campaign, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. The event takes place in his home town of Graff Reinet, at Graaff Reinet Hall, at 09h00.
Mphahlele will attend Graaff Reinet event.
– By Letlapa Mpahlele, PAC President