South Africa’s main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane has caused outrage on social media for failing to acknowledge that blacks were killed during the Sharpeville massacre.
In a Human Rights Day tweet Mr Maimane, whose party is predominantly white, only said 69 people lost their lives and more injured. On March 21, 1960, 69 black protesters were killed and 180 injured by white apartheid police at Sharpeville as they marched peacefully.
South Africans on Thursday commemorated 59 years since the infamous Sharpeville massacre in which police opened fire on about 5 000 protesters who were burning their pass books in disapproval of white minority rule.
Mr Maimane is leader of dominantly white DA, widely perceived as a party pushing to protect white interests in the southern African country.
His tweet read “59 years ago, 69 people lost their lives and more injured in Sharpeville as they marched against apartheid pass laws.” It was met with outrage on social media with some calling him a “forgetful black person with selective memory”.
One Snegga commented: “You forgot to say 69 black people lost their lives at the hands of white people.”
Sundani Muremela reminded Mr Maimane that the blacks were killed by the “people he represents”.
“Don’t try decorate it. They were killed. Lost their lives is more like décor. They were killed by the people you represent today,” he wrote.
Mthokozisi Mabhena sarcastically wrote: “So green people started coughing and ‘lost their live’. Oh, this guy.”
On the fateful day, about 5 000 people staged a peaceful protest in Sharpeville, a township situated between two large industrial cities, Vanderbijlpark and Vereeniging, south of Gauteng province, to oppose the inhumanity of the apartheid regime.
On Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa interacted with families of victims at a wreath laying ceremony in Johannesburg before delivering his Human Rights Day address. In a statement, the DA described Sharpeville today as "still a dormitory of unemployed labour."
“It is still a place where people struggle every day to make ends meet and put food on the table for their families. It is still a place where people are not yet free. And there are hundreds of other places just like Sharpeville all across South Africa, where people are still desperately waiting for their freedom,” the party said.
It blamed the ruling African National Congress (ANC) for the lack of progress.
President Ramaphosa described Sharpeville as a place where one of the greatest tragedies in the country took place.
He said: “We have dedicated this year’s Human Rights Day celebrations to the promotion of indigenous languages as a fundamental part of building a human rights culture.”