Sharpeville (also spelled Sharpville) is a township situated between two large industrial cities of Vanderbijlpark and Vereeniging in southern Gauteng. Sharpeville is one of the oldest of six townships in the Vaal Triangle. It was named after John Lillie Sharpe who came to South Africa from Glasgow, Scotland, as secretary of Stewarts & Lloyds. Sharpe was elected to the Vereeniging Town Council in 1932 and held the position of mayor from 1934 to 1937.
The main reason for the establishment of Sharpeville was the relocation of people from 'Top location" to an area away from Vereeniging because it was felt black people were too close to Vereeniging for comfort. Unfortunately, because the project was only intended to relocate residents of "Top location", and not to house additional people, it did not alleviate the housing shortage. What was planned as a five-year resettlement project beginning in 1935, in fact, took 20 years. In 1941, 16,000 people lived in "Top Location". The building of the houses only started in 1942. A sub-economic housing scheme was used for Sharpeville. Water was free but 14 houses shared one tap and there were two bathing complexes in the township. By 1946 some of the houses had their own taps and bathrooms. The township was first called "Sharpe Native Township" but it changed to Sharpeville in the 1950s.
With the implementation of the apartheid government’s Group Areas Act 21 of 1950, it was estimated that over 3.5 million South Africans were forcibly removed from 1960 to 1982. Of the "Top Location" residents, Blacks were moved to Sharpeville, Coloureds to Rus-ter-vaal and Indians to Roshnee. The Indians were the last ethnic group to leave "Top Location", the last residents being moved to Roshnee in 1974. In 2004, the people of Top location were compensated for the loss of their properties and land, and an amount of R60,000 per house was paid to all former residents or dependants.
On 21 March 1960 the Sharpeville massacre occurred when the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress) organised a protest in which black Africans burnt the Apartheid-required pass books which restricted them from going in certain areas. What had started as a peaceful protest soon became violent, as a result of which South African Police opened fire on the crowd. Sixty-nine black people were killed and 178 wounded by police during the violence.
Sharpeville was also the site of a controversial murder in 1983 which led to the arrest, trial, and death sentences (later commuted) of the Sharpeville Six.
Symbolically, Nelson Mandela signed the South African Constitution in Sharpeville on 10 December 1996. He also opened "The Sharpeville Memorial" to honour the victims of the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. March 21 is now celebrated as Human Rights Day.