Johannesburg - Fifty-six years down the line, Lazarus “Buda” Mofokeng does not struggle to conjure up images of the fateful Monday in 1960 when, as a spindly-legged 14 year-old, he saw township folk running helter-skelter in all directions, away from police gunfire that would leave 69 people dead in its wake.
He still sees the men thrown off their bicycles, felled down by bullets as they attempted a quicker getaway from the scene outside the Sharpeville police station.
History would record that many of those who died during the resultant pandemonium were shot in the back, trying to run for dear life.
The night before, Mofokeng recalls that Nyakale Tsolo led a posse of men - members of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) - on a door-to-door call to inform residents that there would be a march against the hated dompas the next day, meaning there’d be a stayaway from work and school.
That day, March 21, 1960, he says he was just happy to be home with his peers, which meant ample playtime filled with endless rounds of football.
Around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the boys - many of them schoolkids at Tsoelopele Primary where Mofokeng was in Standard 5 - were called off the patchy football ground by an agitated adult who did not like the growing mood outside the police station.
“As my family had a shop, I did not go home but to the shop where I had chores,” he says, looking back to the day now etched in history.
It is marked today as Human Rights Day.
It was around 4 pm. His father then closed the shop and ordered the kids home.
“It was on our way home that we met people running away from the police bullets. Some fell, women too.”
Today he sits idly in the company of a friend, Solomon Twala, who is a year younger. The Sharpeville massacre is the story of their lives. The buddies share the view that, in memory of the fallen, some streets in the historic Vaal township should have been named after the martyrs of the pass protest “who gave their lives for this freedom”.
On the site of the shootings today stands the Sharpeville Human Rights Precinct where the authorities, as is their wont, have thrown money into commemoration artefacts.
The mural outside depicts the symbolic shot of a panicked mass, fleeing apartheid guns mounted on Saracens.
A roll call of the names of the fallen is plastered on the walls.
Today the children who come here are from schools. Though aware of the holiday that falls on March 21, they have no idea what is being celebrated, says Zanele Ntloko, who teaches Grade 2.
“They need to understand that someone sacrificed their life so they could have the freedom they enjoy today.”
Grade 11 pupil Makhuparejia Nyama, 15, of Fundulwazi Secondary School, says: “It’s important for me to know the history of South Africa, and a place like this is a good start.”
Nyama adds he’s aware that those who died “were trying to protest” as “they did not want to carry passes or whatever” and that â”they tried to fight for our freedom”.
Many of the streets, like Seeiso Street - where the marching crowd gathered in 1960 - are still not tarred. There’s a buzz about the place as workmen chase time to get it ready for tomorrow, adding the finishing touches and sprucing it up for the annual celebrations.
But this frenetic painting and landscaping has not fooled visitors like Sash Northey, a teacher at Jeppe Boys’ High in Kensington.
What strikes both teachers and students is the lack of infrastructural development in the area, no doubt a world away from Kensington.
The “Heroes Acre” at Sharpeville cemetery is also a desultory attempt of uniform minimalist tombstones in memory of the fallen.
A PAC plaque at the cemetery is put up “lest we forget” but, apart from the hasty job of cleaning up before March 21 each year, those who died are themselves unlikely to be totally content with how their martyrdom is memorialised.
It is glaringly perfunctory.