The Langa March, 30 March 1960


March from Langa to Cape Town parade, 1990. Photograph by Paul Grendon.March from Langa to Cape Town parade, 1990. Photograph by Paul Grendon.March from Langa to Cape Town parade, 1990. Photograph by Paul Grendon.

On 30 March 1960, Philip Kgosana led a Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) march of between 30.000-50.000 protestors from Langa and Nyanga to the police headquarters in Caledon Square. The protesters offered themselves up for arrest for not carrying their passes. Police were temporarily paralyzed with indecision. The event has been seen by some as a turning point in South African history. Kgosana agreed to disperse the protestors in if a meeting with J B Vorster, then Minister of Justice, could be secured. He was tricked into dispersing the crowd and was arrested by the police later that day. Along with other PAC leaders he was charged with incitement, but while on bail he left the country and went into exile. This march is seen by many as a turning point in South African history.

On the same day, the government responded by declaring a state of emergency and banning all public meetings. The police and army arrested thousands of Africans, who were imprisoned with their leaders, but still the mass action raged. By 9 April the death toll had risen to 83 non-White civilians and three non-White police officers. 26 Black policemen and 365 Black civilians were injured – no White police men were killed and only 60 were injured. However, Foreign Consulates were flooded with requests for emigration, and fearful White South Africans armed themselves.

The Minister of Native Affairs declared that apartheid was a model for the world. The Minister of Justice called for calm and the Minister of Finance encouraged immigration. The only Minister who showed any misgivings regarding government policy was Paul Sauer. His protest was ignored, and the government turned a blind eye to the increasing protests from industrialists and leaders of commerce. A deranged White man, David Pratt, made an assassination attempt on Dr. Verwoerd, who was seriously injured.

A week after the state of emergency was declared the African National Congress (ANC) and the PAC were banned under the Unlawful Organisations Act of 8 April 1960. Both organisations were deemed a serious threat to the safety of the public and the vote stood at 128 to 16 in favour of the banning. Only the four Native Representatives and members of the new Progressive Party voted against the Bill.

In conclusion; Sharpeville, the imposition of a state of emergency, the arrest of thousands of Black people and the banning of the ANC and PAC convinced the anti-apartheid leadership that non-violent action was not going to bring about change without armed action. The ANC and PAC were forced underground, and both parties launched military wings of their organisations in 1961.

• South African History Online, ‘Aftermath: Sharpeville Massacre 1960’, [online], available at 23 August 2013)

Last updated : 26-Aug-2013

This article was produced by South African History Online on 23-Aug-2013

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