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50th anniversary of Sharpeville massacre marked

JOHANNESBURG - Family members of victims raised flowers to the sky and placed them on gravestones yesterday as mourners sang songs from the anti-apartheid struggle to mark the 50th anniversary of a massacre that drew world condemnation.

Others used the Sharpeville massacre anniversary to highlight the inequalities that remain in the township a half-century later, including poor delivery of electricity and running water.

At an early-morning prayer meeting in Sharpeville's Roman Catholic Church, an impassioned congregation raised their voices in song in the stained-glass dawn light.

"All we could see were people falling down. It was like a storm . . . bullets tearing their clothes," the Rev. Mary Senkhane recalled of her own experience on that day 50 years ago.

Police officers killed 69 blacks in Sharpeville, where people had gathered to protest the pass books that the white apartheid government required them to carry at all times. Police shot demonstrators, including women and children, as they ran away.

The massacre drew global condemnation of the ruthless treatment of the disenfranchised black majority and led the apartheid government to outlaw the African National Congress party. The country's first all-race elections were not held until 1994, and the ANC has governed South Africa ever since.

Yesterday, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe laid flowers at the Garden of Remembrance, and spent time speaking with survivors and family members of massacre victims.

"We say never, never and never again will a government arrogate itself powers of torture, arbitrary imprisonment of opponents and the killing of demonstrators," Motlanthe told a crowd of 5,000 that had gathered at a stadium. "In the same breath, we state that our democratic government undertakes to never ignore the plight of the poor, those without shelter, those without means to an education and those suffering from abuse and neglect."

Many, though, wonder when the change they thought they were fighting for in 1960 will come to Sharpeville. Residents in recent weeks have set fire to tires in the streets to protest a lack of basic city services.

Busisiswe Mbuli, 18, lives with her mother and four siblings in an informal settlement on the edge of Sharpeville. The floor of the family shack she lives in is bare earth and corrugated iron walls reveal large holes where rain and bitter winter winds can come through.

"We cannot live in these shelters. They are right next to the tar road, and the gas heating inside the shelter is not safe. And then there are the toilets. They are the worst," she said.

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