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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 80

Paragraph Numbers 151 to 170

Volume 3

Chapter 2

Subsection 16

The Ciskei bus boycott and the railway station shootings: 198321

151 On 18 July 1983, a boycott of the partly government-owned Ciskei Transport Corporation (CTC) buses started in Mdantsane, Ciskei, in protest at an 11 per cent fare increase. The boycott lasted several years and involved shooting of and assaults on commuters by the Ciskei security forces backed up by vigilantes, in attempts to force commuters to use the buses.

152 The Commission received numerous statements in connection with violence that broke out during the bus boycott; many of those who made statements were also heard at the hearing at Mdantsane in June 1997.

153 When the boycott started, commuters initially walked to work in large groups, from Mdantsane across the Ciskei border to East London, a distance of about twenty kilometres. These groups effectively became mass demonstrations against the bus company. Later, more use was made of private taxis and trains.

154 Within days, the boycott elicited a violent response from Ciskei authorities. Security forces and vigilantes set up roadblocks in Mdantsane, and there were reports of commuters being hauled out of taxis and ordered onto buses. On 22 July 1983, five people were shot and wounded by Ciskei security forces at the Fort Jackson railway station. On 30 July, a man was attacked and killed by vigilantes while walking near the Mdantsane stadium, used by vigilantes as a base. On 3 August, a state of emergency was declared in Mdantsane and a night curfew imposed. Meetings of more than four people were banned and people were prohibited from walking in groups larger than four. The following day Ciskei forces opened fire on commuters at three Mdantsane railway stations.

155 In the dark early winter morning of Thursday 4 August, Mdantsane commuters started walking up the small hill to the railway line that ran alongside Mdantsane and the three stations of Fort Jackson, Egerton and Mount Ruth that served the township. The state of emergency had been declared the evening before and the first nightly curfew had just ended at 04:00. Many commuters were probably still unaware of the emergency or the curfew. They were met at each station by a human blockade of armed police and soldiers, supported by vigilantes armed with sticks and sjamboks (whips). The security forces apparently had one aim: to get the commuters back onto the buses. Within an hour, commuters had been shot at all three railway stations.

156 Ms Valencia Ntombiyakhe Madlityane [EC2091/97ELN] said she was shot by soldiers at Mount Ruth station at about 05h00 after she ignored police orders to use a bus instead of the train. At least three people died in the incident. At 04h20 union employee Ms Kholeka Dlutu22 heard shooting at Egerton where commuters also died. Shooting was also reported at Fort Jackson, where some injuries were reported. All in all, “at least six commuters died and dozens were injured23 . The fact that shooting happened at more than one station points to a co-ordinated security force operation with orders to stop commuters from catching the trains at all costs. While police later claimed they were attacked, attempts to prosecute commuters for such attacks failed and it seems unlikely there would have been similar attacks at all three stations at the same time.”

157 Ms Kholeka Dlutu said she heard shooting and went with her aunt to see what was happening. Ms Dlutu stated in an affidavit:

Somewhere near the church nearby a corner house, on the way to Egerton Railway Station, we came across a girl who was bleeding from the thigh and screaming. She alleged that she had been shot by the police … We proceeded and saw many people in an open veld standing opposite Egerton Station, and a smaller group of people, some wearing brown overalls and some wearing other police or army uniform, standing on the opposite side nearer the station. The two groups were facing each other. Whenever the commuters moved towards the station, the other group, to whom I shall collectively refer as the police, would advance as if to meet the first group halfway, causing the commuters to retreat, some of whom ran into residential yards.
At that stage, visibility was poor, but the action described above went on for so long that the light gradually improved. Meanwhile, some of the commuters were managing to escape and reach the railway line by taking devious routes and crossing the railway line. Later, when the police advanced once more, the commuters did not run but shouted out that they were not at war with the police and only wanted to get to the railway station so as to board trains to East London.
The police drew their firearms, and, without having given any warning fired at the commuters who just stood still, apparently not having expected to be fired upon. Even from where I stood, somewhat further away from the commuters, I feared that I might also be struck by bullets and I ran away.
Before running away I saw an elderly man fall to the ground holding his leg, which was bleeding. He complained that he had been shot. As I ran away, I went past a young man wearing a bluish overall lying prostrate on his back on the ground apparently motionless. I also noticed some vigilantes approach the said elderly man. They beat him severely as he lay on the ground. I crawled on all fours and heard further gunshots and bullets whizzing past me. Three bullets struck the wall of a house in front of me, leaving visible holes.

158 The affidavit later helped win an urgent interdict aimed at stopping security force and vigilante assaults. Ms Dlutu was chased by police and hid in a nearby house. She watched police assault the injured young man and then throw both him and the older man into the back of a police truck. The young man is believed to have been twenty-seven-year-old Mr Lawrence Vukile Cecane [EC2625/97ELN]. He was later found to have died.

159 Mr Goodman Toko [EC2215/97ELN] and Mr Nyanisile Alton Vusani [EC2174/97ELN] were also shot dead by police the same morning at Mount Ruth station. Mr Fuzile Caza [EC0220/96ELN] was shot by Ciskei security forces (the family believed that the Ciskei Defence Force (CDF) was involved) at Mount Ruth station; he died in hospital a year later from his injuries. His family tried to bring a civil claim against the Ciskei authorities but heard nothing further from their lawyers. They heard that police had claimed that Caza had been holding an illegal gathering and had been shot after throwing stones at the police. His brother, Mr Myekeni Wellington Caza, told the Commission that Caza had been assaulted and left for dead by vigilantes.

160 The Commission received several other accounts of the shooting in which victims were killed or severely injured. Mr Zola Malgas [EC2178/97ELN] described how police tried to force commuters onto buses.

Near my house, there was a bus which people were told to board instead of using trains. I went out to see with my family but I told my wife to take the kids inside the house. Due to gunshots, we ran inside the house. My wife, Christina Malgas, was snatched by a bullet on the head, leaving a gap on the hair; there are still bullet holes in our door.

161 There were no reports to the Commission of any warnings before shooting began. Most victims did not know what had happened. It seems that few, if any, of those injured or families of those killed received compensation from the Ciskei government. Several deponents who had been injured spoke of having had to pay money to the government for court proceedings but not receiving any payments in return. They were unable to say what the legal proceedings had been about. Some of those injured said they had subsequently been arrested, charged and acquitted, without knowing what the charges had been.

162 At the time, Ciskei authorities said police had been attacked. The Commission did not, however, receive any statements indicating that this was so. It is worth noting that, by the end of August, fifty-nine people accused of attacking the police at the railway stations on 4 August had been found not guilty by the Mdantsane court . A year later, a group of ten were acquitted on charges of public violence relating to the incident, or charges against them had been withdrawn.

163 The Commission could find no indication that anyone was prosecuted in connection with these killings. About eighteen months after the shootings, the Ciskei Attorney-General said he had referred files on four of the six known killings back to the police for further work, and that police were still working on a fifth file. The inquests into four of the deaths eventually began in September 1986, three years after the shootings. Nobody was found to be criminally liable for the killings.

164 There was confusion and panic in Mdantsane after the shootings. Ciskei authorities issued contradictory reports and hospital staff were under pressure not to release details. It was alleged that soldiers prevented people from entering the casualty ward to find the dead and the injured. One persistent rumour was that as many as ninety people had died. However, the Commission did not receive statements indicating a large number of previously unknown deaths and/or disappearances and was unable to substantiate this.

165 Detentions and assaults followed the shootings, some of which were reported to the Commission. A large number of people were charged in connection with breaking the curfew. Two more people were shot dead by Ciskei police within days of the railway station shootings.

166 Six Mdantsane residents working in East London and taxi operator Mr Khabalinjani Mabulu were granted interim orders prohibiting members of the Ciskei security forces and vigilantes from assaulting, molesting, harassing, intimidating or unlawfully interfering with them.

167 One deponent alleged that the SAP had also acted against boycotters. Ms Misiwe Evelyn Keye [EC0951/96ELN] said she had been bitten by police dogs, assaulted by the SAP and dragged onto the railway line at Arnoldton station, just outside East London, the day after the Mdantsane railway station shootings: “I think they were angry simply because we were boycotting buses”.

168 The actions of the security forces and vigilantes elicited a violent response from some of the boycotters, who targeted the vigilantes as well as government structures and individuals believed to be linked to the bus company. Buses were attacked with petrol bombs and stones. The homes of two people believed to be vigilantes assisting the police were burnt down. About 1 000 pupils boycotted school in Mdantsane and within ten days six schools had been damaged in arson attacks. In late July, a bus crashed when a stone thrown at it knocked the driver unconscious. The sole passenger escaped unhurt. In early August, ruling party official Mr Robert Ndlovu’s home in Mdantsane was petrol-bombed and three of his children were killed. Ndlovu had been involved in urging commuters to use buses.

169 A large number of detentions were recorded. By the end of August, over 1 000 people had been detained under the emergency regulations. At the same time, at least sixty-seven were detained under Ciskei’s Internal Security Act, including eight members of the Committee of Ten which was set up to negotiate around the boycott24. A lawyer who represented some of the detainees, Mr Hintsa Siwisa, was himself detained. Following the boycott period, a Committee of Ten member, Ms Priscilla Mxongo, was hospitalised following assaults in detention; another, Mr Eric Mntonga, was subsequently killed in detention in Ciskei in July 1987, while at least two others (Mr Mzwandile Mampunye and Mr Newell Faku) were charged with ‘terrorism’. Unionists were also targeted for detention during the boycott. Some unionists were detained by the SAP and handed over to Ciskei. The militant SAAWU, formed in East London in 1979, had been struggling to operate in Ciskei before the boycott started and the Ciskei authorities used the boycott as an excuse to suppress the union. Chief Lennox Sebe openly accused SAAWU of being behind the boycott. SAAWU unionists were detained and by 5 September, the union had been banned in Ciskei25 .

170 The bus boycott was finally called off at a mass meeting held by the Committee of Ten on 15 March 1985.

21 See Fink Haysom, Ruling with the whip: Report on the violation of human rights in the Ciskei. Johannesburg: Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), October 1983; Institute for Planning Research, An investigation into the Mdantsane/East London bus boycott. University of Port Elizabeth, April 1984 and contemporary newspaper accounts. 22 Affidavit by Kholeka Dlutu on 4/8/83 in Boqwana et al v Ciskei Minister of Justice et al case 494/83, Zwelitsha court. 23 The Commission was able to trace the names of six people who died in this incident. They were: Lawrence Vukile Cecane, Nyanisile Alton Vusani, Julia Ndaliso, Goodman Toko, Fuzile Caza and Mncedisi Elliot Sidwadwa. A memorial at Egerton station lists 11 dead: five of the six identified by the Commission, plus one (Zengezenge Mpiyake) who was killed on 30 July by vigilantes, two who died in separate incidents on 6 August (Sisa Faku and Michael Mbila) and three others: Khaya Mbange, Clifford Soxokashe and a Mr Mayile. While the memorial includes at least three people who died in other incidents during the boycott, three children of a Ciskei government supporter who were fatally injured when their home was petrol-bombed on 3 August (Daniel, Priscilla and Vuyiswa Ndlovu) are not included on the memorial. 24 Haysom (1983), pp 43 and 53. 25 A lengthy legal challenge to this ban by SAAWU was eventually overturned by the Ciskei Supreme Court in October 1987; the union eventually disintegrated.
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