By TOM GODFREY
Next week will mark 55 years since police shots rang out that were heard around the world and killed 69 Black people during the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa.
Some may vaguely remember the brutal March 21, 1960 murders as the men, women and children were slaughtered as South African police opened fire on a peaceful group protesting against the apartheid “pass laws”.
The bloody incident shook the world at a time when the majority of Blacks in that country were denied jobs, forced to live in Bantustans and travel with pass cards.
I remember covering the many protests and marches at the time to end apartheid that were held on the streets of Toronto. It was a slow and arduous journey.
The world was jolted again almost two decades later by the Soweto Uprising on June 16, 1976, in which more than 170 were killed by police in a protest by high school students over the introduction of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in local schools.
The day is now rightfully a public holiday in South Africa.
The dreadful apartheid policy existed in South Africa from 1948 to about 1992, and with the release of Nelson Mandela from jail to later become president.
These struggles for human rights came to mind as I saw the first Black U.S. President, Barack Obama, speaking on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, Alabama, during a march to commemorate the 50th anniversary in which police and state troopers beat and used tear gas against peaceful marchers who were advocating against racial discrimination at the voting booth. The attacks sparked the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a landmark U.S. law that prohibits racial discrimination in voting.
That dark day in Selma helped to change American history and the lives of many people.
But the racial inequality that exists in the U.S. is still wide. Just look at the lives of people in Ferguson, Missouri, and how they are treated by police there, who according to a report last week, routinely falsely arrest and detain Blacks.
Events of Selma and Sharpeville eventually led to the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that was established in 1966, and is marked on March 21 every year.
The day is heralded with many marches and parades in Canada and around the world to celebrate the fight against racism everywhere.
Here in Toronto, the Urban Alliance on Race Relations is holding a forum on March 19 in which Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell will talk about poverty in Toronto.
“The Urban Alliance continues to challenge systemic barriers and needs your support more than ever,” president Gary Pieters said. “Please share your concerns and ideas with us as we move ahead in our mission of racial harmony.”
The Alliance has been fighting a good fight in this city for many years.
The City of Toronto is also paying attention and last year issued a Proclamation to celebrate a day to eliminate racism with the words:
“The City of Toronto values the contributions made by all residents and remains committed to continuing to build an inclusive society that serves as a model of diversity for cities across the world.” The proclamation was decreed by former mayor Rob Ford.
Toronto, with all our diversity, has made human rights a top priority that is embedded in the way City Council does business and with whom it does business.
It is nice to see the legislations and policies on paper. But as I go about my daily life, I am often asked if racism is really being eliminated.
I think it is. With apartheid gone and Obama in office, more than ever we need events as an International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. We all benefit as a community.