Sharpeville Memorial, Theunis Kruger Street, Dicksonville, Sharpville
On the 21st of March 1960, the Sharpeville Massacre – also known as the Sharpeville Shootings – occurred
when the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) organised a peaceful
protest in which black Africans burnt their pass books which restricted them
from entering certain areas. The event which started out as a peaceful protest
soon became violent. Feeling threatened by this protest, the South African
police opened fire on the crowd.
69 People were killed, including 8 women and 10 children. Over 180 were injured, including 31 women and 19 children. Many were shot in the back as they turned to flee.
The Sharpeville Massacre marked a turning point in South Africa’s history. The country found itself increasingly isolated from the international community and the event also played a role in South Africa's departure from the Commonwealth of Nations in 1961. The Sharpeville Massacre was also a catalyst for the Resistance Movement, which led to the fall of Apartheid in 1993.
The Resistance Movement
isolated South Africa from the international community and the departure from
the Commonwealth of Nations in 1961.
Sharpeville Memorial is situated within the Pelindaba Cemetery where the 69 graves of those killed in the Sharpeville Massacre are located.
Current known heritage status
On 21 March 2011, as part of the Human Rights Day celebrations, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane declared Pelindaba Cemetery a provincial heritage resource, a grade 2 resource according to the National Heritage Resources Act, No 25 of 1999. On the same day other sites in Sharpeville were also declared provincial heritage resources. They are the Sharpeville
Police Station, Vuka Cemetery, the local Roman Catholic Church, Sharpeville
Human Rights Centre and Exhibition Centre (formerly known as Sharpeville
Memorial) and the Kwa Dlomo Dam.
Possible interested and affected parties
The people of the Republic of South Africa.
ILASA (Institute for Landscape architecture in South Africa)
Family and friends of those killed during the Sharpeville Shootings.
All freedom fighters and anti-apartheid activists.
Pelindaba Cemetery is famous for the 69 graves of the people killed during the Sharpeville Shootings. Since the cemetery is within a township area, little history was recorded. The name of the Memorial is however a bit of a controversy. On 21 March 2002, the Sharpeville Memorial was opened by former president, Nelson Mandela. It is located in Seeiso Street in Sharpeville, opposite the police station where the shootings took place. This memorial has subsequently been renamed to the Sharpeville Human Rights Precinct with the new Sharpeville Memorial situated in Pelindaba Cemetery.
Description of alterations with dates affected
The only changes to the site was fencing the cemetery with a pre-cast concrete fence and the building of the Sharpeville Memorial.
Description of site and/or structures and/or interior spaces
Sharpeville Memorial is located and fulfils its role as a place of remembrance and gathering for the local community. The way visitors approach the memorial was deliberately set out so that, from the historic entrance, the memorial is first experienced from afar in relation to the 69 graves. The visitor then walks along the length of the memorial wall before entering the memorial space and walking up the ramp in order to get the elevated viewing platform which juts forward and cantilevers over the landscape to provide a view of the 69 graves and Sharpeville. The effective and clever
application of scale, spatial proportion and level change through simplicity in
design creates a space of memorial status.
The project was conceived as
a 'procession through the garden' based on the concepts of memorial, gathering
and viewing. Key elements of the project are the Memorial Wall, Amphitheatre
The memorial wall, built from clay brick, has a skeletal row of raw-steel columns along its outer edge. Each column is topped with a granite flag. These steel columns are representative of people – standing in a row, all facing the same direction. A planter in the top of the wall contains a White Freylinia (Freylinia tropica) hedge with delicate white flowers which juxtapose the harshness of the steel and granite along the length of the wall.
Situated within the lawned space behind this wall the ‘flowers’, a series of 156 unique vertical raw-steel poles each finished off with a black and white granite ‘flower head’, serve as a permanent bouquet of flowers laid on the memorial - akin to those left daily on graves in the cemetery.
opposite edge to the wall, rows of indigenous River Bushwillow (Combretum erythrophyllum) and Wild
Oilve (Olea europaea subsp. africana) trees delineate the edge of the
memorial space and provide a sense of enclosure while providing shade to those
seated on the benches below them. The River Bushwillow tree was chosen due to
its ability to grow quickly in areas with a high water table while the Wild
Olive tree was chosen due to its production of edible fruit, traditional
medicinal value and its importance as a symbol of peace.
Since this memorial is located in a cemetery where burials take place on a daily basis, it was important to include spaces for both small intimate gatherings (private memorial events), as well as large political events – such as the gathering on Human Rights Day annually on the 21st March.
expanse gently slopes up along the northern side of the memorial wall and
provides space for these larger gatherings, while the ‘flowers’ form a backdrop
to the west. Backing directly onto this space, a smaller, more intimate
amphitheatre, consisting of a series of lawned terraces looks out to the
distant horizon, dotted with power stations and industrial buildings, characteristic
of this area. A lawned plinth provides a backdrop to this smaller gathering
space and the poem ‘I Remember Sharpeville’ by Sipho Sydney Sempala – laser cut
from steel – hangs delicately from one of the enclosing walls.
The use of views and procession were important design generators in the conceptualisation of the memorial space within the context of the cemetery, and its broader context in the heritage precinct. On arrival, visitors are enticed towards the memorial space along a processional path through the cemetery and past the 69 graves.
The landscape architects felt strongly that the memorial garden should first be seen in relation to its setting. Placing it at a distance thus shifted the emphasis away from the designed space and onto the 69 graves.
The pathway from the 69 graves takes the visitor to the far eastern side of the memorial space and along the length of the Memorial Wall past the raw-steel columns and into the garden around the western end of the wall. There is a sense of anticipation as one passes the symbolic columns as to the future and what may await within the space. It is only upon entering the space that the visitor discovers the less monumental elements of the garden – the ‘flowers’ sculpture, the open lawn.
As a final
movement the visitors finds their way up the slope behind the memorial wall and
onto an elevated viewing platform. It is from this point that they look back
across the cemetery towards the 69 graves as a final acknowledgment of the
The Memorial is constructed with clay brick, raw steel, granite and all work was done by hand with the community being involved as much as possible. Materials were sourced locally and all these actions have led to the community taking ownership of the site and it not being vandalised. The unfinished materials give the space a simplistic character and lessens maintenance. The colour of the clay brick blends into the veld and adds to the Memorial not being the only focus within the cemetery. Maintenance was designed to be kept to the minimum and only included mowing the lawn and trimming the Freylinia hedge on top of the Memorial Wall. Unfortunately, not even this basic maintenance is done by the local municipality.
Remembering Sharpeville - 50 years commemoration:
GREENinc Landscape Architecture, 2011. Memorable Memorial. Urban Green File: ILASA Awards of Excellence magazine, 16(2): 18-19.
Notes provided by GREENinc Landscape Architecture.
Please hover over the photos for information about them.
Historical photos of the Sharpeville Massacre (Photos courtesy of www.myfundi.co.za):
The Sharpeville Memorial in February 2011 after completion (Photos courtesy GREENinc):
Status Quo in September 2012 (Photos courtesy of J. Tolsma):