JOHANNESBURG — Family members of victims raised flowers to the sky and placed them on gravestones Sunday 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 dawn light.
Police officers killed 69 black South Africans 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.
The Sharpeville massacre drew global condemnation of the ruthless treatment of South Africa's 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.
On Sunday, South Africa's 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 who 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.
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 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.