One year after the racial violence traumatizing South Africa began in this run-down ghetto as a rent strike, the 45,000 inhabitants still refuse to pay.
So do the residents of five neighboring townships, whose joint act of protest on Sept 3, 1984, triggered the most serious black rebellion in South Africa's history. The cost to the white-minority administration in uncollected rent is now estimated at about $200 million.
The atmosphere was tense in Sharpeville today as police and troops patrolled the streets in big armored vehicles in anticipation of demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the uprising. But the only violence came when youths stoned passing traffic in the nearby township of Sebokeng.
The name of Sharpeville actually entered the annals of South Africa's black resistance not from the events of last year but from those of March 1960, when a contingent of white policemen panicked and opened fire with machine guns on a crowd of passive resisters protesting the pass laws that were then the staple of racial segregation. The toll that time was 69 blacks killed and nearly 200 wounded, most of them shot in the back.
At Sharpeville II, last year, 75 persons were killed in four days of violence. A government proclamation issued 10 days ago that prohibited any commemoration ceremonies caused an ominous ripple of anger. But in the end, local community leaders persuaded the inhabitants to keep the anniversary low-key.
The only visible sign of commemoration was the large number of young people in the streets, boycotting school classes. Some kicked soccer balls about the rutted dirt roads that run like herring-bones from the single tarred highway bisecting the township of masonry houses.
"I don't think anything is going to happen," said Patrick Noonham, an Irish priest, this morning. He is the only white man living in this legally defined black ghetto, by the grace of an unspecified concession on the part of the government.
Sharpeville is lying low after its bloody confrontation, but its spirit of defiance is as determined as ever, added Noonham, as he poured tea for his white guests, who were breaking the law by visiting him without official permission in his own technically illegal habitation.
The township and its five neighbors, Noonham explained, have held out for a year against official pressure to make them pay the higher rents that they balked at last September.
In the course of the year the white administration, and the black council that works in tandem with it, have cut off electricity and stopped refuse collections to try to make the point that without rent payments there will be no services.
Instead of yielding, residents organized their own refuse removal service. Young activists with some knowledge of electrical engineering broke into substations to switch on the power to the blacked-out areas.
The administration, saying the rent boycott was the work of "agitators" who were intimidating law-abiding residents into being defiant, urged companies to arrange automatic deductions from employes' wages. After a residents' association challenged the procedure in court, the companies backed off and refused to cooperate with the government.
"For the moment, the authorities seem to have accepted that no forms of coercion are going to work," said Noonham.
But the white administrators are not capitulating either. The rents remain unpaid and life goes on in Sharpeville and its neighboring townships, but police surveillance is constant.
Two of the community's leaders have been in prison for 11 months. One faces charges of high treason, terrorism and murder. The other is still uncharged.
An unknown number have been detained under the standing security laws and emergency regulations proclaimed six weeks ago. Two appointments made for today could not be kept because the people to be interviewed were taken away by the security police early this morning. In one case, it was the third detention in as many months.
Twice over the past year, the Army has surrounded the townships of this heavily industrialized region, known as the Vaal Triangle, while police have gone from door to door searching homes for the "agitators" among the 350,000 inhabitants of the townships in the region's rent boycott.
The raids have resulted in hundreds of arrests under the pass laws that restrict the admission of blacks to towns and cities, but they failed to cow the protesters.
The massacre that must now be known as Sharpeville I was also a watershed in South African history. It drew the battle lines of a coming racial conflict.
Within months of the massacre, the main black nationalist movements, the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress, were outlawed, causing them to abandon hope of achieving peaceful reforms through constitutional means and to switch to strategies of guerrilla struggle.
For the next 16 years, white South Africa appeared to consolidate power through a series of stringent security measures. After a convulsion in 1976, when Johannesburg's black township of Soweto exploded in rebellion against segregated education, the pattern of racial containment was reestablished.
Then came Sharpeville II, which began a chain reaction of black protests that has shaken the foundations of the white-minority power structure.
Again it began with the simplest of protests. The white administration, operating now through a series of black town councils, ordered an increase in the house rentals that black workers must pay in the segregated townships where they live, outside the whites-only towns and cities.
The people of Sharpeville and other townships in the Vaal Triangle, hard-pressed by unemployment and rising living costs and angered by the government's exclusion of blacks from political change, announced that they would refuse to pay until the rentals were substantially reduced.
The new rents were due at the beginning of last September, and on Monday, Sept. 3, rioters set up street barricades, burned and looted shops and fought running battles with the police.
In a series of acts of retribution that was to set a pattern for the months ahead, the rioters turned on the black councilors who were seen to be agents of the apartheid administration.
A mob descended on the home of Sam Dlamini, Sharpeville's deputy mayor who was also representative on a body called the Lekua Town Council, and hacked him to death with machetes on his doorstep. They flung his body in the family car and set it ablaze. Five other councilors died in similar fashion in the region's other townships.
For two days the violence raged in the six Vaal Triangle townships. On the third day there was a brief and, in retrospect, fateful attempt at a peace negotiation.
A crowd of 4,000 protesters faced a contingent of armed police in five armored personnel carriers across a 300-yard stretch of highway at the entrace to Sharpeville.
For five hours they confronted each other in an atmosphere of growing tension. Then five blacks stepped forward from the crowd. Carrying a white flag and led by an Anglican priest, the Rev. Ben Photolo, they made their way slowly toward the police garrison.
As the policemen crouched in their armored vehicles with loaded shotguns at the ready, an officer stepped forward to meet the peace-makers. There was a brief discussion in the road, then the group was led off to a squat building, where they were joined by members of the white administration.
For the rest of the day the two sides argued over the rent increases. The white administrators agreed to a temporary freeze of the rent increase but refused to meet the demand for a reduction. They argued that they could not yield to such a demand under pressure.
It was the first and last attempt to negotiate a settlement in what has become a year of violence convulsing black townships throughout the country and causing nearly 700 deaths.