SABC News | Sport | TV | Radio | Education | TV Licenses | Contact Us

TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 136

Paragraph Numbers 368 to 385

Volume 3

Chapter 2

Subsection 32

The Bisho massacre

368 The incident commonly referred to as the Bisho massacre took place in September 1992 in Bisho, the capital of the then Ciskei. The months before the shootings had seen a marked increase in tension in the Ciskei, with numerous violent clashes between ANC supporters and Ciskei government supporters in the weeks leading up to the massacre. By September 1992, the ANC was running a national campaign to demand free political activity in homelands, targeting Ciskei, Bophuthatswana and KwaZulu in particular.

369 The ANC protest march to Bisho on 7 September 1992, demanding the resignation of Brigadier Oupa Gqozo (then military ruler of Ciskei) and free political activity in Ciskei, was part of this campaign. It followed a similar march on 4 August, which was regarded by many as a ‘practice’ march. CDF soldiers opened fire on the September march, killing thirty people. (Twenty-eight protesters and a CDF soldier shot by his colleagues – died within days of the shooting; a twenty-ninth ANC supporter died in 1995 from his injuries.) At least 200 CDF soldiers and 70 000 - 80 000 ANC supporters were involved in the clash. Prominent ANC leaders who were part of the march included Mr Chris Hani, Mr Ronnie Kasrils (now Deputy Minister of Defence) and Mr Cyril Ramaphosa.

370 The Commission held two public hearings on this matter. The first was held in Bisho in September 1996, within days of the fourth anniversary of the massacre, and the second in East London in November 1996. About sixty witnesses who had brought complaints to the Commission were heard; these were people who had been injured in the march or whose relatives had been killed, and family of the CDF soldier who died. Further submissions were made by ANC leaders, Mr Ronnie Kasrils and Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, by the then South African Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Pik Botha, by a ballistics expert and by several senior police and military officers who had been in charge of the Ciskei security forces. The former Ciskei Attorney-General gave evidence describing interference by Gqozo’s government in attempts to prosecute the matter. After some prevarication, Gqozo himself also gave evidence at the second hearing.

371 Those who made statements to the Commission described the chaos of the massacre. Some were apprehensive at the beginning of the march. Mr Monwabisi David Hlakanyana [EC0864/96ALB] told the Commission:

It was not the first time that we had come to Bisho on a march, but this march was different. We observed the road for the manner in which everything was set up, that something was going to happen, but in the picture of my mind I thought that in previous marches — previous marches had been allowed … before I got to that road we saw a helicopter taking off and in taking off I did not realise that anything was happening at the time but when it took off I saw people running back and I heard gunshots.

372 The CDF soldiers were also worried. Mr Mzwabantu Nqabisa, whose brother, Rifleman Vusumzi Sydney Nqabisa [EC0877/96CCK], was the CDF soldier killed in the march, said the whole Ciskei army had received an instruction, apparently from Gqozo, that no soldier was to go home the night before the march but all should sleep at the military base instead.

But I insisted on going home to tell my sister and the local residents that this was going to happen on the 7th and that they should not go to Bisho … I told them that there was going to be trouble in Ciskei.

373 In responding to a question as to why he thought there was going to be trouble in Ciskei on that day, Mr Nqabisa answered that their superiors were behaving in a strange way and seemed to be nervous.

374 The march started at the Victoria grounds in King William’s Town and was monitored by the South African security forces as far as the outskirts of King William’s Town. No South African security forces were visible across the Ciskei border by the time the marchers reached the border, apart from those in the air. The front of the crowd reached the Ciskei border in the middle of the day. A razor-wire barrier had been erected across the road by police to prevent direct access to Bisho itself. To the left, a dirt road led off the main road into the Bisho stadium, which the courts had given the marchers permission to use. Behind the razor-wire barrier were Ciskei police, some in armoured vehicles, and a long line of soldiers stretching down the Fort Hare University campus alongside the road opposite the stadium. More soldiers could be seen on the distant rooftops of some of the Bisho buildings, such as the parliament gates and the telephone exchange. At the razor-wire barrier, a group of ANC officials, including Mr Chris Hani and Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, stopped for discussions with National Peace Secretariat officials, while the main body of the march began to move into the stadium. Dozens of journalists and independent monitors were present. An SADF helicopter in camouflage colours, a blue and yellow SAP helicopter and a small white airplane monitored proceedings from above.

375 It seems that the shooting started on the far side of the stadium. The main body of marchers had gone into the stadium and a group, including Mr Ronnie Kasrils, ran out of the stadium towards Bisho in contravention of the court ruling on where the march could go. This group was shot at by soldiers stationed there. The shooting was apparently then picked up by most of the rest of the soldiers down the lines. No warning of intent to fire was given and no other methods of crowd control were used before opening fire.

376 MK member Petros ‘Bushy’ Vantyu [EC2053/97KWT], who was wounded in the incident, told the Commission that he was with Kasrils’ group when the shooting started:

As we ran through the gap in the fence the only soldiers that I could see were the soldiers that were deployed along the dirt road on the other side of the stadium, and according to my experience if these soldiers had shot at us, if it was that column of soldiers that shot at us they would have hit us from the front and they would have hit most people in our column. Hence, it is my belief that most of the people who were shot at in Bisho were shot by people who were either shooting from the parliament side or the Fort Hare University side. And I also believe that I was shot by those people … It appears to me that the Bisho massacre was a pre-planned incident, judging by the manner in which the security forces were deployed both on the RSA and Ciskei sides.

377 Mr Siyabulela Gusha [EC0865/96CCK] said:

We managed to enter the stadium. Whilst inside there we saw Ronnie Kasrils leading a group of people heading towards a gravel road leading to Parliament. We followed that march; we then heard gunshots being fired and then we turned and ran away towards the stadium. Whilst inside the stadium I was hit by a pellet on my shoulder blade.

378 Mr Lungisa Welcome Matiwane [EC0902/96KWT] gave his perspective:

I went through the hole into the stadium and when we passed something that looked like bridges, we heard things like fireworks, and when we looked around to see what was happening, there were people that were running out of the stadium towards our direction and when I turned around to run away as well in the direction from I had come, I fell and when I tried to get up, I couldn’t.

379 Mr Sicelo Jonnie [EC0793/96KWT] said:

When we were about to enter Bisho, we were told to wait for the leaders. I heard some shots, and then we started to run, whilst I was running I was hit on the leg.

380 Several people were killed at the point where marchers broke out of the stadium. Others were killed inside the stadium, yet others at the razor-wire barrier. Marchers inside the stadium and those still at the border had no idea what was happening when shooting started.

381 Ms Yoliswa Shiyiwe Kewuti [EC0208/96ELN] described the scene:

A Ciskei helicopter got to the stadium and hovered very close to the ground but did not actually touch down and Mr Chris Hani asked us not to sing any freedom songs, and not make any noise, but we should rather keep quite because that was Brigadier Gqozo and he would think that by singing freedom songs we were provoking him. We should show him that we came to the stadium to speak to him, Chris Hani said.

382 Mr Pawulosi Mantyi [EC0645/96ELN] added:

It wasn’t a Ciskei helicopter, it was something known as a ‘Mellow Yellow’ and when it went up there was dust because when a helicopter takes off it causes dust. I last saw the helicopter taking off and the next thing we heard was gunfire …

383 When the shooting started there was complete chaos. None of the deponents reported hearing any warning from the soldiers before the shooting started. Most did not know where the shots were coming from; many were convinced they were being shot at from the helicopters. Other evidence to the Commission suggested that the helicopters may have moved upwards rapidly once shooting started (in order to avoid being shot at themselves) and that the rotor blade noise of the rapidly ascending helicopters could have been misinterpreted as the sound of shots.

384 Mr Desmond Manzolwandle Mpunga [EC1164/96CCK] saw the shootings as follows:

There were already a lot of people in the stadium who were in a hurry to go in, but what happened is that as more people got into the stadium a helicopter emanated. When I looked up there were about five or six men in the helicopter, and the doors were flung open. As I was trying to detect exactly what was happening we heard a terrible sound like a radio going off channel, then there was shooting … after I was shot I thought that this could not be rubber bullets.

385 Mr Andile Ndembu [EC0867/96ELN] told the Commission:

We saw people going towards the stadium. When they got to the stadium, a helicopter went up. This helicopter was from the Republic of South Africa, it was yellow and blue in colour. When the helicopter arose there were shootings, that is how I was shot.
Broadcasting for Total Citizen Empowerment
SABC © 2019