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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 85
Paragraph Numbers 170 to 192
The Langa massacre: 21 March 1985
170 In March 1985, tensions in Uitenhage townships reached boiling point. Between 8 and 10 March, police reported twenty-three incidents of arson and eighteen of stone-throwing, causing damage estimated at R220 000. The Minister of Law and Order, Mr Louis le Grange, had visited Uitenhage with the commissioner of police, General Coetzee on 19 February. They had been told that ‘soft’ weaponry was no longer effective for riot control purposes. On 14 March, Uitenhage’s most senior police officers, the ‘Order Group’, decided to take stronger action to regain control. As from 15 March, police patrols were no longer issued with teargas, rubber bullets and birdshot; instead they were given heavy ammunition.
171 Meanwhile, police action against militant youth resulted in six black people being killed by police. The funeral of four of the six was to be held on Sunday 17 March and a stay away was called for Monday 18 March as part of the ‘Black Weekend’. Police said that three petrol bombs were thrown at a police vehicle in Langa during this weekend, and that they shot and killed a young man. The houses of two police officers in Langa were destroyed by fire. On 17 March, Black Sash leader Ms Molly Blackburn burst into the Uitenhage police station where a youth, Mr Norman Kona, was being tortured by police. She halted the assault and saw that charges were brought against the police officers responsible.
172 The week before the funeral, Captain Goosen of the SAP applied for two different and conflicting orders relating to funeral prohibitions. Both were granted, resulting in confusion over the dates on which funerals were to be held.
174 On 21 March 1985, a large group of people from Langa township assembled at Maduna Square and began to march to KwaNobuhle to attend the funeral. The police blocked the road into the centre of Uitenhage with two armoured vehicles and ordered the crowd to disperse. When the crowd failed to comply immediately, police opened fire on the crowd, fatally shooting twenty. The incident became known as the Langa massacre.
175 The Kannemeyer Commission was appointed the day after the shooting with Judge Donald Kannemeyer as chairperson and sole member. The Kannemeyer Commission found that twenty people were shot dead and at least twenty-seven were wounded, and that the majority had been shot in the back. He found that, in the circumstances, the police could not be blamed for issuing orders to open fire. Police were armed with lethal weapons rather than standard riot control gear because of a deliberate policy adopted by senior officers, and the police should thus have foreseen that an order to open fire would result in fatalities. Police evidence of the weapons carried by the crowd was exaggerated.
176 Charges of public violence laid against thirty-one people following the Langa massacre of March 1985 were dropped a year later. Of the thirty-one charged, twenty-one had been injured by police gunfire.
177 A year later, an inquest at the New Brighton courts in Port Elizabeth found that the deaths were not the result of any act or negligence constituting a crime on the part of anyone. The inquest findings were based on the evidence heard by Kannemeyer and it was considered unnecessary to call any of the witnesses to give their evidence to the inquest. As a result of this decision, the families of the deceased withdrew from the inquest proceedings. Magistrate JS Knoesen said that, if any blame were to be attributed for police actions, the responsibility should lie with Lieutenant JW Fouche, who was in command of the Casspirs (armoured personnel carriers) and who gave the order to open fire. However, Knoesen found that Fouche had done his duty in dispersing the crowd which was on its way to kill white people in town; that every effort made by Fouche and Warrant Officer JW Pentz to halt the marching crowd had failed, and that Fouche and Pentz had seen objects that they believed to be petrol bombs among the crowd. Knoesen said:
The court is satisfied that the amount of violence used was that which was required and justifiable under the circumstances.
178 The Commission received statements in connection with more than twenty victims of this incident – about half relating to deaths, the rest to injuries. Part of one of the Uitenhage hearings in August 1996 was devoted to the Langa massacre. Those who gave evidence at this hearing included two men who had been working as ambulance drivers at the time. The dead included Mr Kenneth Thobekile Mahuna [EC0057/96PLZ], Mr Buyile Gladstone Blaauw [EC0555/96UIT], Mr Gugulethu Mzwabantu Gavu [EC0558/96UIT], Mr Aubrey Vuyo Nobatana [EC0559/96UIT], Mr Phakamile Nicholas Solomon [EC0562/96UIT], Mr Mgcineni Vusani [EC0615/96UIT], Mr Mzimkulu Penzana [EC0708/96UIT], Mr Phumzile Gladwell Plaatjies [EC0806/96UIT], Mr Sonwabo Kama [EC1080/96PLZ], Mr Zanele Sidwell Majikazana [EC1140/96UIT] and Ms May Vena [EC1197/96UIT], who all died on the day, and Mr Lungisile William Nqikashe [EC0685/96TSI], who was paralysed in the shooting and subsequently died after surgery.
179 There had previously been allegations that a baby had died in the shooting; the Kannemeyer Commission found that this was not true. One of the ambulance drivers told this Commission he had seen a dead baby at the scene, but nobody could corroborate this. This Commission also heard from a woman who said her baby had been ill with gastro-enteritis and she had arrived at the casualty department at the same time as many of those wounded in the massacre. Her baby had been certified dead on arrival at the hospital. It appears that this incident may have been confused with the massacre, and the Commission satisfied itself that this baby’s death had no connection with the shooting.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT, WHILE THE SAP WERE JUSTIFIED IN PREVENTING THE MARCH AND DISPERSING THE CROWD, THEY RESORTED TO GROSSLY EXCESSIVE MEANS TO ACHIEVE THIS, USING UNJUSTIFIED DEADLY FORCE, AND THAT THEY ARE ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS (KILLINGS, ATTEMPTED KILLINGS AND SEVERE ILL TREATMENT) WHICH RESULTED FROM THEIR ACTIONS.
Violence in Duncan Village
180 The Commission received a number of statements from people affected by unrest and killings that took place in Duncan Village, Aliwal North and Queenstown within months of each other during 1985, and which were in many ways typical of township unrest in other parts of the country.
181 Until August 1995, the predominant aspects of resistance and political mobilisation were less pronounced in Duncan Village (on the outskirts of East London) than in other townships around the country. There were, however, sporadic street battles between youths, students and the police, particularly in the context of intermittent schools boycotts. Pupils at Qaqamba Senior Secondary School boycotted classes early in 1985, demanding that their student representative council be recognised and corporal punishment abolished. On 11 April 1985, the pupils at Qaqamba apparently marched out of their school and demanded that other pupils from the nearby Nyathi and Makinana primary schools join them. They were confronted and dispersed by the police using rubber bullets. Persistent running battles between the police and boycotting students followed. In May, the local educational authorities suspended classes.
182 At that time, Duncan Village was under threat of removal to the nearby Mdantsane township, under Ciskei jurisdiction, which was causing substantial unhappiness in the township.
183 On 11 August, large-scale violence was sparked off in Duncan Village after the funeral of human rights lawyer and activist Ms Victoria Mxenge, who had been assassinated in Durban. Her husband, human rights lawyer and activist Mr Griffiths Mxenge, had been killed in Durban by a police hits quad some years earlier. She was buried next to her husband at her home village of Rayi outside King William’s Town, about sixty kilometres from Duncan Village.
184 Mxenge’s funeral was characterised by militant addresses to mourners and UDF supporters. The speakers’ messages concentrated on demands for the release of Mr Nelson Mandela from prison, the withdrawal of the troops from the townships, the denunciation of government ‘collaborators’ and institutions and the lifting of emergency regulations. A message from Mr Mandela was smuggled out of prison and read at the funeral.
185 At the end of the funeral, members of the crowd attacked a passing vehicle with CDF soldiers in it. Corporal Mnyamezeli Bless [EC2782/96ALB] died after being stoned and set alight.
186 After the Mxenge funeral, there was violent unrest in Duncan Village, apparently started by the returning mourners. There were arson attacks on various buildings like the rent office, schools, a beer hall, a bottle store and a community centre. That evening, rampaging youths swept through the Ziphunzana area of the township, singing freedom songs. All six community councillors’ homes were burnt down and homes of police officers and suspected ‘collaborators’ were also attacked. Youths stopped private cars and taxis travelling through the township and demanded petrol for making petrol bombs.
187 The police dispersed the youths with rubber bullets, teargas and sneeze powder. The violence continued the following day, a Monday, adversely affecting industry and commerce, with high absenteeism at local factories. There were also reports of looting and burning of commercial and delivery vehicles. Bread and milk deliveries to the township were affected.
188 Police are reported to have arrested many injured people as they were being treated at a local church aid centre. Many families were left homeless as a result of this violence. According to media reports, five people were dead by 14 August. The neighbouring coloured areas were also peripherally affected, as there was no instruction at their schools. Bus services were withdrawn from the township and taxis avoided the Duncan Village route to town. Commercial vehicles were stoned and burnt, and their drivers attacked. By 16 August, the toll had risen to nineteen people dead and 138 injured after running battles with security forces. The Commission received statements in connection with about seventy victims of violations in Duncan Village for this period, about a third of which related to killings. Statements submitted indicate that killings continued throughout August. Most killings were by shooting and a report of a death by necklacing (Mr Mzuzile Siqubethu [EC0991/96ELN]) was also received. The Commission was unable to consult police records on these incidents as records were reported to have been destroyed.
189 Police are alleged to have shot randomly and without warning at mourners holding church services for the victims. The police harassed, interfered with and intimidated the clergymen operating an aid centre and clinic treating the victims. A court order was brought against the police on behalf of the priests working at the centre.
190 At a mass meeting called by the Duncan Village Residents’ Association (DVRA), residents called for an end to the violence and workers were urged to go back to work. Buses were to be allowed to operate without hindrance or restraint and Escom was called to resume power supplies to the area — they had been unable to repair electrical faults during the unrest. There was an ongoing consumer boycott and shop owners were requested to lower their prices to avert the collapse of the boycott. Suppliers of goods to Duncan Village were also asked to resume their services.
191 A memorial service for the dead was held on 21 August and several factories closed as workers heeded a call to attend. At least twenty-three organisations were represented at the service and most had provided speakers. Some workers are reported to have been fired for attending the service. Activists were detained, including an aid centre worker. State President PW Botha paid a visit to the city for a briefing about the unrest.
192 On 31 August, nineteen people were buried at a mass funeral attended by 35 000 people and addressed by then Border UDF president, Mr Steve Tshwete. Two men were killed by a crowd returning from the funeral when their car apparently ploughed into the crowd, injuring eleven.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT, WHILE THE POLICE WERE OBLIGED TO MAINTAIN ORDER DURING THE PERIOD OF UNREST IN DUNCAN VILLAGE, THEY ROUTINELY RESORTED TO THE UNJUSTIFIED USE OF DEADLY FORCE IN DOING SO AND ARE ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE GROSS VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS THAT RESULTED FROM THEIR ACTIONS, INCLUDING KILLING, ATTEMPTED KILLING AND SEVERE ILL TREATMENT.