Saving Sharpeville 6 and Upington 14 From Death Sentences

In December 1985 the South African Acting Justice Human sentenced five black men and one black woman from Sharpeville to death by hanging. Never before had a woman been sentenced to death. The Court found the Six guilty under the ‘Common Purpose’1 doctrine. That meant that the Six had been in a protest in September 1984 in which a city council member would have been deliberately murdered. Participating in a protest was sufficient to be convicted without evidence that the Six were the actual perpetrators. The Six pleaded not guilty and testified not to have committed the murder.

In 1960 Sharpeville made headlines worldwide with the brutal repression of the peaceful protest against the pass laws2. More than one generation later Sharpeville once more made the headlines worldwide. The scheduled executions of the Sharpeville Six provoked a successful national and international campaign against the death sentences. Their cause became a national and international political issue which unfolded in a context of massive black resistance against the sham reforms of the white Apartheid regime.

The Sharpeville Six were the first black people in South Africa whose death sentences were not carried out. In the Netherlands the Redt De Sharpeville Zes Komitee (Save the Sharpeville Six Committee)3 campaigned for the release of the Six and later also for the Upington 14 sentenced to death. In 1989 these 13 black men and one black woman from Upington were sentenced to death based on the same arguments as the Sharpeville Six.

The Sharpeville Six and the Upington 14 eventually escaped the gallows. They suffered the traumatizing effects of imprisonment, torture, being on death row and imminent executions for the rest of their lives.

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