In March of 1960 both the ANC and the PAC decided to hold demonstrations against the 'pass law'. While the ANC planned peaceful protests, Robert Sobukwe wanted to do something a little bit more extreme. He asked all Africans on March 21 to leave their houses without their passes, walk to the police station and demand to be arrested. On the morning of March 21 Sobukwe started the campaign by walking to the police station in Orlando in the Transvaal, without their passes. He and a small group of protestors were arrested.
In the township of Sharpeville in Vereeninging, about 50 kilometers away, another demonstration started. A large and noisy crowd of people gathered around the police station. There is no definite record of how many demonstrators surrounded the station. Some witnesses estimated no more than 5,000 while the government claimed there were up to 20,00. As the crowd rallied around the station in Sharpeville, one frightened police officer unexpectedly open fired at the crowd.
Following his lead, the rest of the policemen started firing their machine guns as well. They fired over 700 rounds at the citizens. After the chaos was over, the bodies of 69 Africans lay dead on the street. Another estimated 180 were injured. The most shocking piece of evidence of all was that of the dead, 52 had been shot in the back. If the police claimed to have been firing in self-defense, why had demonstrators been shot while running away?
In Langa in the Cape, demonstrators were told by police officers to leave the station. When demonstrators refused they were baton charged by the police. The crowd began throwing stones at the police, giving them reason to open fire. Two demonstrators were killed in Langa and 49 injured.