Sharpeville Memorial
Sharpeville, South Africa
Completed 2011

On the 21st of March 1960, the Sharpeville Massacre - also known as the Sharpeville Shootings - occurred when the Pan Africanist Congress organised a peaceful protest in which black Africans burnt their pass books which restricted them from entering certain areas. The event which started out as a peaceful protest soon became violent. Feeling threatened by this protest, the South African police opened fire on the crowd. 69 People were killed, including 8 women and 10 children. Over 180 were injured, including 31 women and 19 children. Many were shot in the back as they turned to flee.

The Sharpeville Massacre marked a turning point in South Africa's history. The country found itself increasingly isolated from the international community and the event also played a role in South Africa's departure from the Commonwealth of Nations in 1961. The Sharpeville Massacre was also a catalyst for the Resistance Movement which led to the fall of Apartheid in 1993.

The recently designed framework for the Sharpeville Precinct highlights areas that have important cultural and historical significance. Development of these areas - known as the Sharpeville Heritage Precinct - will transform the township into a noteworthy tourist attraction. The Phelindaba Cemetery is one of the areas identified as it is here that the 69 graves of those killed in the Sharpeville Massacre are located.

It is here that the Sharpeville Memorial Garden is located and fulfils its role as a place of remembrance and gathering for the local community. The project was conceived as a 'procession through the garden' based of the concepts of memorial, gathering and viewing. Key elements of the project are the Memorial Wall, Amphitheatre and Flowers.


The memorial wall, built from clay brick, has a skeletal row of raw-steel columns along its outer edge. Each column is topped with a granite flag. These steel columns are representative of people - standing in a row, all facing the same direction. A planter in the top of the wall contains a White Freylinia (Freylinia tropica) hedge with delicate white flowers which juxtapose the harshness of the steel and granite along the length of the wall. Situated within the lawned space behind this wall the 'flowers', a series of 156 unique vertical raw-steel poles each finished off with a black and white granite 'flower head', serve as a permanent bouquet of flowers laid on the memorial - akin to those left daily on graves in the cemetery.

On the opposite edge to the wall, rows of indigenous River Bushwillow (Combretum erythrophyllum) and Wild Oilve (Olea europaea subsp. africana) trees delineate the edge of the memorial space and provide a sense of enclosure while providing shade to those seated on the benches below them. The River Bushwillow tree was chosen due to its ability to grow quickly in areas with a high water table while the Wild Olive tree was chosen due to its production of edible fruit, traditional medicinal value and its importance as a symbol of peace.


Since this memorial is located in a cemetery where burials take place on a daily basis, it was important to include spaces for both small intimate gatherings (private memorial events), as well as large political events - such as the gathering on Human Rights Day annually on the 21st March.

A lawned expanse gently slopes up along the northern side of the memorial wall and provides space for these larger gatherings, while the 'flowers' form a backdrop to the west. Backing directly onto this space, a smaller, more intimate amphitheatre, consisting of a series of lawned terraces looks out to the distant horizon, dotted with power stations and industrial buildings, characteristic of this area. A lawned plinth provides a backdrop to this smaller gathering space and the poem 'I Remember Sharpeville' by Sipho Sydney Sempala - laser cut from steel - hangs delicately from one of the enclosing walls.


The use of views and procession were important design generators in the conceptualisation of the memorial space within the context of the cemetery, and its broader context in the heritage precinct. On arrival, visitors are enticed towards the memorial space along a processional path through the cemetery and past the 69 graves. The landscape architects felt strongly that the memorial garden should first be seen in relation to its setting. Placing it at a distance thus shifted the emphasis away from the designed space and onto the 69 graves. The pathway from the 69 graves takes the visitor to the far eastern side of the memorial space and along the length of the Memorial Wall past the raw-steel columns and into the garden around the western end of the wall. There is a sense of anticipation as one passes the symbolic columns as to the future and what may await within the space. It is only upon entering the space that the visitor discovers the less monumental elements of the garden - the 'flowers' sculpture, the open lawn.

As a final movement the visitors finds their way up the slope behind the memorial wall and onto an elevated viewing platform. It is from this point that they look back across the cemetery towards the 69 graves as a final acknowledgment of the fallen.

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