Old apartheid police station is a place of hope in Sharpeville

Kitso Information Development Centre offers training courses and hot meals

By Masego Mafata

20 March 2023

Today the Sharpeville Police station charge office serves as the admin office for the Kitso Information Development Centre. Photos: Masego Mafata

On 21 March 1960, apartheid police opened fire on people protesting against the pass laws in Sharpeville, south of Gauteng. Today, the old Sharpeville police station is a place of hope.

The Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, in which 69 people died, is commemorated on Human Rights Day.

The township, 75 kilometres south of Johannesburg, has potholed roads and problems with water supply and refuse collection.

The museum commemorating the massacre and the graveyard where those killed by the police are buried are in a dilapidated condition.

But the old police station is a hive of activity. Since 2020, the Kitso Information Development Centre has been housed here, offering computer courses and life skills courses to the community. The computer courses are accredited by the Media, Information and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT SETA)

A big, white sign at the main gate of the police station welcomes visitors to the centre with its motto “empower inspirationally”.

People come from all over the township, including three informal settlements, says centre manager Nicho Ntema.

“We also run a nutrition programme, providing one hot meal per day to community members, as well as breakfast and lunch for students attending our courses,” says Ntema. It provides about 270 plates of food a day.

High unemployment, poverty and food insecurity are ever present in Sharpeville, according to Ntema.

Monyane Matsose stands inside one of the greenhouses built by volunteers at the Kitso Information Development Centre.

Monyane Matsose, 31, completed the life skills and computer training programme last year and is now responsible for the centre’s vegetable garden. Vegetables are donated to community members in need and used in the kitchen for the daily meals provided.

“Before coming here, I didn’t know anything about growing and planting seedlings. Kitso helped me learn about agriculture. I have learnt skills that will help me improve my life,” says Matsose.

Kitso secretary Nkapu Ranake says the centre is funded by the Department of Social Development. She said Kitso would like to expand the number of courses offered and cater for older people as well as youth.

A mural located at the entrance of the Sharpeville Exhibition Centre.

A few metres away from the old police station are the Sharpeville Exhibition Centre and Garden of Remembrance, where monuments display the names of those who died in the 1960 massacre. The sites were opened in 2002.

Visitors to the Exhibition Centre are greeted by an old sign with fading names of heritage sites in Sharpeville. There is a bright wall mural of former ANC president Oliver Tambo, but the centre’s walls are cracked and paint is peeling.

The Sedibeng District Municipality is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the museum. In May 2010, the District Municipality awarded a contract of over R9-million to construction companies to upgrade the Exhibition Centre and its Garden of Remembrance. Asked what was being done to maintain the site, museum guide Phoebe Rabohlale declined to comment, though the decay of the site was obvious.

There have been frequent break-ins at the Exhibition Centre. Last year the wifi apparatus was stolen and there has been no wifi since.

White pillars in the Garden of Remembrance, next to the Sharpeville Exhibition Centre, commemorate the area where many of the bodies of 69 were shot by apartheid police on 21 March 1960 were found.

Rabohlale, who has been working at the Exhibition Centre for 14 years, said it was busiest at this time of year. “It is quiet here during the year because Sharpeville is only remembered on 21 March, Human Rights Day. We give tours to schoolchildren during the year because the history is part of their syllabus. But the general public only comes around this time,” she said.

The small exhibition, which Rabohlale said has remained unchanged since she started working there, consists of pictures of the march and of the people who were killed. The school tours often end at the Garden of Remembrance, Rabohlale said, because there is no transport to take visitors to other heritage sites, which include the site at which the South African Constitution was signed by former President Nelson Mandela in 1996.

“Better advertising, information pamphlets and booklets would also enhance the experience of the tour,” Rabohlale said.

When GroundUp visited, workers were sweeping leaves and trimming trees outside the Exhibition Centre and cutting grass at the Phelindaba Cemetery, where the 69 people who were shot during the massacre are buried. Trees line the edge of Phelindaba Cemetery, where the massacre dead are buried in a row. The cemetery is now full and only used for re-burials.

The state of the township’s pothole-riddled main road, Seeiso Street, is as poor as that of the Exhibition Centre. Seeiso and Zwane streets are among the few tarred roads in the township.

Residents said refuse is not collected regularly and illegal dumping is rife. Many households are without water for days at a time.

The museum at the Centre includes portraits of residents who had survived the Sharpville Massacre. Mrs Mnguni was one of the few remaining survivors. She passed away earlier this year.

In a written response to GroundUp, the Emfuleni Local Municipality, under which Sharpeville falls, said road maintenance and pothole patching took place daily.

Currently, there are nine refuse removal trucks servicing the areas in the municipality, said communications manager Makhosonke Sangweni, and the municipality intended to have 17 trucks by the end of May.

But Mohau Kutlwano, an artist and craftsman living in Sharpeville, said Sharpeville is “overlooked” by the government.

“More often we get helped by structures like Kitso and the private sector. The government is not in tune with what we need as communities,” he said.

Questions sent to the Sedibeng District Municipality on 14 March went unanswered. The article will be updated to include the municipality’s responses once received.