22 memories of martyrs for our freedom

Freedom Month celebrates the time all South Africans voted in the country’s first free elections. But for this April – and with local elections to be held this year – it’s important for all South Africans to remember the freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for our right to vote.

To mark 22 years of freedom, we salute 22 martyrs of the liberation struggle. Check in daily as they are rolled out over the course of Freedom Month.

#1 Stephen Bantu Biko

By Shamin Chibba

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Stephen Bantu Biko, the Black Consciousness Movement leader, wanted to free the minds of the oppressed before freeing them politically.

Born in King William’s Town, in Eastern Cape in 1946, Biko co-founded the South African Students’ Organisation (Saso) in 1968, an all-black student organisation that resisted apartheid.

By 1973, the apartheid regime had banned its leader.He was forbidden to write or speak publicly, to talk to journalists or to speak to more than one person at a time, among other restrictions.

As a result, the associations, movements and public statements of Saso members were stopped.But Biko did not stop his fight against apartheid; instead he was driven to work underground. He created the Zimele Trust Fund to aid political prisoners and their families in the mid-1970s.

His activities led to his arrest by apartheid police outside Grahamstown on 18 August 1977. He was taken to security police headquarters in Port Elizabeth where, according to South African History Online, he was severely beaten. The beating resulted in brain damage.

Realising to a certain extent the seriousness of his condition, the police decided to transfer him to a prison hospital in Pretoria, which was 1 133km away, records the history website. He died shortly after his arrival at the hospital. He was just 30 years old.

A year after his death, some of his writings were collected and released under the title I Write What I Like.

Biko is buried in the Ginsberg township cemetery, outside King William’s Town, in the Steve Biko Garden of Remembrance.

#2 Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu

By Mathiba Molefe

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Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu was born in Pretoria on 10 July 1956. His father abandoned the family in 1962, leaving his mother, Martha Mahlangu, to raise her young son alone.

Mahlangu left school in standard eight and crossed the border to train as an Umkhonto we Sizwe soldier in Angola and Mozambique. He returned to South Africa in 1977 to take part in student protests. But that same year, along with companions George Mahlangu and Monty Johannes Motloung, he was approached by police in Johannesburg.

Two people were killed in the crossfire of the gunfight that followed. Motloung and Solomon Mahlangu were arrested; George managed to escape.

Mahlangu was charged with two counts of murder and several charges under the Terrorism Act. His trial ran from 7 November 1977 to 1 March 1978, but as a result of the brutal beatings he had received while detained, the judge deemed him unfit to stand trial on suspicion of brain damage.

However, as common purpose had been formed, Mahlangu was found guilty on two counts of murder and three charges under the Terrorism Act. He was sentenced to death by hanging on 2 March 1978.

Following numerous failed attempts to appeal the decision, he died at the hands of the apartheid government on 6 April 1979.

His death sparked worldwide protest and condemnation of the South African government’s internal policies.

Mahlangu is buried in Mamelodi, in Pretoria. His tombstone bears his last words: “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight.”

#3 Ashley Kriel

By Sulaiman Philip

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When Ashley Kriel died on 20 July 1987 he was just 20 years old, but he had already been a community activist for six years. Starting with the civically minded Bonteheuwel Youth Movement, he worked to make his poor and crime-ridden hometown a better place.

His work with the Bonteheuwel Inter School Congress and their support of the United Democratic Front (UDF) brought him the unwanted attention of government security apparatus. Identified as a leader in the student protest movement, he was forced to flee to Angola in 1985, where he received military training.

Kriel died violently in a police ambush in Athlone, Cape Town, but even in death he found no peace. His funeral was disrupted by police who refused to allow the funeral procession to leave his mother’s home. In death, the police were determined to not allow him to become a martyr. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Reverend Allan Boesak spoke at his graveside, security forces fired on mourners.

In choosing to name its youth engagement programme The Ashley Kriel Youth Leadership Development Project, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation acknowledged Kriel’s ongoing influence on young leaders in Western Cape. More importantly, it was an acknowledgement of Kriel’s belief that every South African could play a part in changing the world for the better.

#4 Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge

By Priya Pitamber

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Griffiths Mlungisi Mxenge was born in 1935 in King William’s Town, in Eastern Cape.

He became a member of the African National Congress in the 1950s, while he was reading for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Fort Hare. He followed this with an LLB degree at the University of Natal, but his studies were interrupted in 1965, when he was detained for 190 days and convicted under the Suppression of Communism Act for his political activities in the ANC. He served a two-year sentence on Robben Island.

Mxenge eventually completed his law degree and became a well-known civil rights lawyer who took up cases of political freedom fights across all political parties. He was assassinated on the night of 19 November 1981.

Following the death of her anti-apartheid activist husband, Victoria Mxenge studied law and joined the legal practice he had established.

She took on cases in which the youth were ill-treated while imprisoned and was part of the defence team in the 1984 treason trial against leaders of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Natal Indian Congress in the Pietermaritzburg Supreme Court.

Victoria Mxenge started a bursary fund in memory of her husband. She became a member of the Release Nelson Mandela Committee, the National Organisation of Women and the Natal Treasurer of the UDF.

In 1985, she was attacked and murdered at her home in Durban.

The Mxenges are buried next to each other in Rayi Cemetery near King William’s Town.

#5 Hastings Ndlovu

By Lucille Davie and Ray Maota

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Hastings Ndlovu, born in 1961, died on 16 June 1976 during South Africa’s Soweto student uprisings. He was just 15, a schoolboy who had joined the protests against Bantu education.

There are conflicting reports of who was the first fatality on the day. Another boy, 12-year-old Hector Pieterson, had also been shot by the police in the Soweto township of Orlando West. It’s most likely that Hastings was the first child to be shot, although it’s probable that Hector died before him.

Hector was declared dead when he arrived at Phefeni Clinic, while the doctor on duty at the then Baragwanath Hospital who treated Hastings, Malcolm Klein, puts the time of his death at around noon or shortly thereafter, several hours after he was shot.

Klein described the scene as “grisly”. He said: “a bullet wound to one side of his head, blood and brains spilling out of a large exit wound on the other side, the gurgle of death in his throat. Only later would I learn his name: Hastings Ndlovu.”

Hastings was survived by his parents, three sisters and brother. His sisters left the country soon after 16 June, but returned to Johannesburg a few years later.

He was buried with Hector at Avalon Cemetery in Johannesburg and the house he lived in, 7235 Thabete Street, Soweto, was issued a blue Heritage plaque on 16 June 2012 to commemorate his sacrifice.

One may ask why Hector is known worldwide while Hastings is not; the only answer that comes up is that there was no photographer on hand to record his shooting.

#6 Andrew Sibusiso Zondo

By Chris Anderson

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Andrew Zondo was an Umkhonto we Sizwe operative responsible for the 1985 Amanzimtoti shopping centre bombing.

He was born and raised in Durban’s KwaMashu township and joined the ANC when he was 16. He was trained as a combatant in exile in Angola and carried out a number of clandestine operations against the South African apartheid government.

The Amanzimtoti bombing, which was during the busy Christmas shopping period, was his most prominent. Five people were killed, including two children; more than 40 were injured. Zondo was captured six days later.

Found guilty and sentenced to death, he was hanged in September 1986. His last word was “Amandla”, the battle cry of the anti-apartheid struggle. Zondo was 19 years old.

#7 Ahmed Timol

By Priya Pitamber

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Ahmed Timol was born on 3 November 1941; he was a teacher, sportsman and dedicated anti-apartheid activist.

He was awarded a scholarship and enrolled in the Johannesburg Training Institute for Indian Teachers in 1961, from where he graduated in 1963. During his years at college, he was elected vice-chairman of the students representative council.

Timol was also an avid sportsman. He obtained his colours in the Transvaal Indian Cricket and South African Non-Racial teams. He was also a soccer administrator for the Dynamos Football Club. A Muslim, by 1965, he had completed his religious pilgrimage to Mecca, and subsequently went to London, where he taught at an immigration school in Slough.

With fellow freedom fighter and later president of South Africa Thabo Mbeki, in 1969 Timol went to Lenin University in the Soviet Union for political training. He returned to South Africa in February 1970 and began setting up underground structures for the banned South African Communist Party (SACP). He also helped to identify possible recruits into the movement, and produced and distributed political pamphlets.

In 1971, Timol was arrested at a roadblock after police found banned ANC literature, copies of secret correspondence and instructions from the SACP, as well as material related to the 50th anniversary of the SACP in the car. He was taken to the Newlands Police Station, then to the notorious John Vorster Square Police Station in Joburg.

According to police, Timol dived out of a window and landed on Commissioner Street on 17 October 1971. They made no mention of the signs of torture on Timol’s body.

On 29 March 1999, in his memory, Nelson Mandela renamed the Azaadville Secondary School in Krugersdorp, the Ahmed Timol Secondary School.

#8 Neil Aggett

By Mary Alexander

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Neil Aggett became a doctor in 1977. Five years later he died alone in an apartheid cell. Tortured, broken and bloodied, the 28-year-old son of privilege was the first white person to die in detention.

Educated at the elite Kingswood College and University of Cape Town, his eyes were opened to the cruelties of apartheid while working in the casualty departments at “Africans only” hospitals in Mthatha and Soweto.

Aggett also understood that trade unions – organised workers – could be a powerful force in the fight against apartheid. He became an organiser for the Food and Canning Worker’s Union.

As a white man fighting a white regime, Aggett alarmed authorities and drew the attention of the security police. On 27 November 1981, he was detained. On 5 February 1982, he was found hanging in his cell.

Sixteen years later, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission ruled that being assaulted, blindfolded and given electric shocks for more than 70 days in detention was “directly responsible for the mental and physical condition of Dr Aggett, which led him to take his own life”.

Aggett’s funeral brought 15 000 people to Westpark Cemetery in the affluent whites-only northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Some 90 000 workers across the country embarked on a two-day stay-away in his honour.

#9 Chris Hani

By Ray Maota

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Chris Hani, born in rural Transkei in 1942, was assassinated in 1993 in Boksburg. Today, his murder is widely regarded as a turning point in South African politics.

Martin Thembisile Hani was born on 28 June 1942 in the small town of Cofimvaba, in a rural Xhosa village called kuSabalele. A fierce opponent of the apartheid government, he grew up to become the leader of the South African Communist Party and chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress.

He was killed on 10 April 1993 at his home in the racially mixed suburb of Dawn Park. He was accosted by a Polish far-right anti-communist immigrant named Janusz Waluś, who shot him in the head and back as he stepped out of his car. Waluś fled after the shooting, but was arrested soon afterwards after Hani’s neighbour, a white Afrikaner woman, called the police.

Clive Derby-Lewis was also implicated in the murder. A senior South African Conservative Party MP and opposition spokesman for economic affairs at the time, he had lent Waluś his pistol.

Serious tensions followed the assassination, with fears that the country would erupt in violence. Nelson Mandela addressed the nation appealing for calm, in a speech described as “presidential” even though he was not yet the president of the country.

“Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being,” Mandela said. “A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin.

“The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world… Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us.”

While riots did follow the assassination, the two sides of the negotiation process were galvanised into action and they soon agreed that democratic elections should take place on 27 April 1994, a little over a year after Hani’s murder.

#10 Nokuthula Orela Simelane

By Chris Anderson

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Born in the small town of Bethal in Mpumalanga in 1960, Nokuthula Orela Simelane joined the ANC while attending the University of Swaziland.

She acted as a courier for Umkhonto we Sizwe between activists living in exile in Swaziland and underground operatives in South Africa. Simelane disappeared en route between the two countries in 1983, believed to have been detained by apartheid-era South African police.

The details of her subsequent torture and death were revealed during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s, when it was admitted that Simelane was taken to the infamous Vlakplaas security police headquarters and tortured to reveal information on ANC underground operations.

It is still not known where her remains are. A statue honouring her work and sacrifice for the struggle was erected in her hometown of Bethal in 2009.

#11 Jerry Mosololi

By Shamin Chibba

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Jerry Mosololi was one of the Moroka Three, who were executed by the apartheid government in 1983.

As a member of the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, Mosololi carried out attacks on police stations in 1979 and 1981, in which four black policemen died. After his arrest, he was tortured until he confessed to the attacks.

According to Sowetan newspaper, Mosololi’s capture played out like a Frederick Forsythe novel.

On a warm summer day in Hammanskraal, a young farm worker found a large hole on the western side of the 20ha farm on which he worked. He soon discovered that it was a hideout. Three men who lived there tried to talk to him from a distance but the worker ran towards the farmhouse to alert his boss. The three men dashed in the opposite direction.

Police arrived and cordoned off the area. Mosololi and Simon Thelle Mogoerane – who had gone shopping – arrived at the hideout unaware of what was awaiting them. They were captured.

Marcus Thabo Motaung joined them in the cell after he was caught in Klipgat. The three, known as the “Moroka Three”, were charged with high treason and 20 alternative charges, including the attack at New Canada railway station and Central Park electric sub-station.

They pleaded not guilty, saying police brutality during the 1976 student uprising was the cause for their actions against the police in Soweto and Wonderboom.

On 6 August 1982, ignoring evidence of police brutality, Justice DJ Curlewis passed a guilty verdict and imposed the death penalty. On 7 June 1983, the United Nations Security Council appealed for clemency and called on the South African government to commute the sentences.

However, two days later the government rejected the plea and on the same day, Mosololi, Mogoerane and Motaung were hanged at Pretoria Central Prison.

#12 Robert Waterwitch and Coline Williams

By Sulaiman Philip

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In December 2005, the mayor of Cape Town unveiled a statue outside the Athlone Magistrates Court. The two figures striding in the direction of the court, one looking nervously over her shoulder. The statue is there to honour Robert Waterwitch and Coline Williams, who died while planting a mine at the courthouse in July 1989.

Williams (22) and Waterwitch (20) were both Catholic student activists died while taking part in an anti-election bombing campaign.

Like Waterwitch, Williams had been radicalised during the school boycotts that began in 1985. With no schools open, students spent the time educating themselves and plotting to change a world that denied them their humanity.

William’s, who had been arrested in 1986 and spent a year in detention, was in command of their mission. She was recruited into MK in 1988 and was part of the Ashley Kriel Detachment. Waterwitch joined the armed struggle in 1989.

Almost three decades after their deaths, what happened that night in Athlone is still not clear. Some still believe they were murdered by the security police, who had infiltrated the Ashley Kriel Detachment, others argue they were handed a mine that had been tampered with by a police spy.

For all South Africans though, their deaths represent the defiance and hope for a better life of a young generation of fighter for freedom.

#13 Hector Pieterson

By Mathiba Molefe

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Hector Pieterson’s story has become one of those most closely associated with South Africa’s struggle for freedom.

The image of an unconscious Hector, being carried by fellow pupil Mbuyisa Makhubo, with Antoinette Sithole, Hector’s sister, running alongside, is one of the most iconic images of the 1976 Soweto student uprising. It was taken by photojournalist Sam Nzima.

Born in 1963, Hector was only 12 years old when he was shot by police during a peaceful protest by schoolchildren against Bantu education in Soweto, Johannesburg, on 16 June 1976.

Police claimed that the bullet was not intended for the schoolchild, but investigations, ballistics testing and the post-mortem revealed that the bullet had been shot directly at Hector and had not ricocheted off the ground.

He was one of the first of 560 casualties of the 1976 Soweto Uprising. There are conflicting reports of who was the first fatality on the day. Another boy, 15-year-old Hastings Ndlovu, was most likely the first child to be shot, although it’s probable that Hector died before him. Hector was declared dead when he arrived at Phefeni Clinic, while the doctor on duty at the then Baragwanath Hospital who treated Hastings, Malcolm Klein, puts the time of his death at around noon or shortly thereafter, several hours after he was shot.

Since 1994, 16 June has been observed as a public holiday in South Africa; it is called Youth Day, in memory of the victims of that day and the days that followed.

The events have been commemorated in the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto, just two blocks away from where he was shot 40 years ago in Orlando West, as well as in the Hector Pieterson Museum, which was opened in 2002.

#14 Surendra Lenny Naidu

By Sulaiman Philip

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Honest, humble, concerned about the plight of his community – these words were used to describe Surendra Lenny Naidu, who was gunned down in June 1988 as he tried to make his way back into South Africa.

Naidu was 24 and had spent his life as a youth activist and Umkhonto we Sizwe soldier who had led the Lenny Naidu unit, based in Chatsworth. He died believing that the cause he was fighting for – the liberation of South Africa’s downtrodden people – was not only just but worth any sacrifice.

He was a founder member of the community-based Helping Hands organisation and activist with the Chatsworth Housing Action Committee. Naidu’s activism was founded on a dream of a united, non-racial South Africa based on equality.

In February 1986, he left South Africa for Lusaka, in Zambia; from there he travelled to Angola for military training. Using the nom de guerre Phillip Samuels, he travelled to Swaziland to attempt a return to South Africa. He was killed along with Lindiwe Mthembu, Makhosi Nyoka and Nontsikelelo Cothoza by Eugene Kock’s Vlakplaas assassins.

In 2013, Kumi Naidoo, at the time Greenpeace’s international executive director, eulogised Naidu. They had been friends in high school and Kumi remembered a brilliant student and young man who touched and enriched lives. “I can still hear his infectious laughter, which he was able to muster even in trying and frightening moments confronting the apartheid regime as teenagers.”

#15 Vuyusile Mini

By Chris Anderson

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Vuyusile Mini was a labour unionist, struggle activist and singer during the early years of apartheid. Inspired by his dockworker father, Mini started his political life at an early age, joining his father in labour demonstrations in Port Elizabeth when he was 17.

He joined the ANC in 1951, and was one of first Umkhonto we Sizwe recruits when the armed wing of the ANC was established in 1961. He was arrested for sabotage and other political crimes in 1963 and was sentenced to death by the apartheid government.

Mini was hanged in Pretoria Central Prison in 1964, singing self-composed freedom songs as he was led to the gallows, including his most famous of the era, Pasopa nansi ‘ndondemnyama we Verwoerd (Look out, Verwoerd, here come the black people).

#16 Thelle Mogoerane

By Chris Anderson

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Thelle Mogoerane was born in 1960; at the age 16, after the 1976 student uprising, he joined Umkhonto we Sizwe as a soldier specialising in covert guerrilla warfare.

Mogoerane was one of the Moroka Three, a team responsible for bombings between 1979 and 1981 at the Moroka and Orlando police stations and various other apartheid government key points, included power stations and railway installations.

Captured along with Jerry Semano Mosololi and Marcus Thabo Motaung, the three became prominent figureheads in literature popularising the anti-apartheid movements in Europe and the US.

All three were executed in Pretoria Central prison in 1983. The memory of Mogoerane was honoured in 2015 when the Natalspruit Hospital in Katlehong was renamed in his honour.

#17 Marcus Thabo Motaung

By Shamin Chibba

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Marcus Thabo Motaung grew up in Diepkloof, in Soweto in the 1960s and 1970s. As a student at Madibane High School, he was actively involved in the Students Christian Movement.

But following his involvement in a bloody student revolt on 4 August 1976, Motaung fled to Swaziland, where he joined the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). He was taken to Mozambique en route to Angola, where received military training. He was deployed back into South Africa in 1979 as a member of a unit of known as G5.

On 3 May 1979, Motaung, Nicky Sangele and Thelle Mogoerane entered the Moroka Police Station, in Soweto and opened fire on police officers on duty. This was followed by another attack in which Motaung and his unit attacked a police station in Orlando, also in Soweto on 2 November 1979.

There were 60 staff members in the police precinct during the second attack, and two policemen were critically wounded. They died a few days later in hospital. The unit also attacked Wonderboom Police Station in Pretoria; four policemen were killed. Several more attacks were carried out on police stations in Kliptown, and on Orlando Magistrates Court.

Motaung and three other members of the G5 Unit were arrested in their hideout. He was shot three times in the groin by the police during his arrest. A surgeon who saw to him administered nothing more than painkillers and he was denied hospital treatment for two days.

In the trial that followed, Motaung and three of the five members of G5 were found guilty and sentenced to death on 6 August 1982. Motaung was one of the members of the group that was known as the Moroka Three, along with Thelle Mogoerane and Jerry Mosololi. They were all executed on 9 June 1983.

#18 Trojan Horse Massacre

By Ray Maota

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On 15 October 1985, members of the security forces shot and killed three young people in Athlone, who were demonstrating against the apartheid government in what became known as the Trojan Horse Massacre.

A South African Railways truck had been loaded with crates, close to the edges; the middle was empty, creating a space in which heavily armed police were able to hide. The truck drove down Thornton Road in the Cape Town suburb, into the middle of the protest.

Then the police, hiding behind the crates, sprang up and opened fire. They killed three young people – Jonathan Claasen, aged 21; Shaun Magmoed, aged 15; and Michael Miranda, aged 11 – and injured several others.

An inquest was opened in March 1988 to investigate the actions of the police. The magistrate ruled that the police had acted in an unreasonable way, and 13 men were charged. The case was referred to the Attorney-General of the Cape, who refused to prosecute those who were responsible.

The families of those involved waged a civil prosecution but it ended in the acquittal of the accused in December 1989.

#19 Lennox Madikane

By Shamin Chibba

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At about 2am on 22 November 1962, 250 Poqo members, carrying axes, machetes and homemade weapons, marched from Mbekweni township on the outskirts of Paarl in Western Cape to protest against carrying passes.

Lennox Madikane was one of them; for his anti-apartheid actions he became one of the first three people to be sentenced to death for sabotage in South Africa.

Madikane was a member the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and its military wing, Poqo.

The members split into two groups, one to attack the prison and the other the police station. The latter group attacked police patrol vans before police shot at them. Three were killed and others were wounded. Several were arrested.

The rest fled, to join the group planning the prison attack. Together they formed a new group that then attacked houses in Loop Street, in Paarl. Two residents were killed.

Madikane was arrested and sentenced to death for sabotage. On 1 November 1963, he, Fezile Felix Jaxa and Mxolisi Damane were hanged.

#20 Veyisile Sharps Qoba

By Shamin Chibba

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Veyisile Sharps Qoba was a member of Poqo, the military arm of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). He was involved in attacks against both black and white targets, particularly in the Cape and Transkei, between 1962 and 1963.

By June 1963, 3 246 members of Poqo had been arrested across the country and 124 accused of murder.

On 16 March 1962, Qoba and four other Poqo activists were arrested for an attack on Michael Livele Moyi, a policeman in Langa. They had injured five others in the process. He was re-arrested later, and this time sentenced to death. He was executed on 7 March 1968.

According to South African History Online, Qoba was buried in a pauper’s grave or on sites where protests were unlikely. In October 2010, the National Prosecuting Authority exhumed the bodies of six Poqo members who had been hanged; they were reburied at the Rebecca Street Cemetery in Pretoria. Qoba was one of them.

#21 David Webster

By Mary Alexander

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Dr David Webster was an anthropologist at Wits University, a founder member of the Detainees Parents Support Committee in 1981, a founder member of the Five Freedoms Forum, and a committed comrade in the United Democratic Front.

He was also an active member of the Orlando Pirates supporters club.

Webster was shot dead on 1 May 1989 outside his house at 13 Eleanor Street in Troyeville, Johannesburg, by mercenaries employed by the Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB), a secret apartheid death squad. The mercenaries were paid R40,000 – about eight thousand US dollars.

Thousands of people came to Webster’s funeral at St Mary’s Anglican Cathedral in central Johannesburg. In 1998, Ferdi Barnard, the man who pulled the trigger on Webster, was tried for a number of crimes – including the death of Webster. Barnard was found guilty, and sentenced to two life terms plus 63 years.

#22 Sharpeville 69

By Mary Alexander

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On 21 March 1960, some 5 000 people gathered outside the police station in Sharpeville, a township.

The crowd was peaceful, but demanding to be arrested for disobeying the inhuman pass laws. Instead, police guns blazed – and 69 people died.

The day, also referred to as Sharpeville Day and Heroes’ Day, finally made the world aware of the inhumanity of the apartheid regime.

The uproar among South Africa’s black population was immediate, and the following week saw demonstrations, protest marches, strikes, and riots around the country. On 30 March 1960, the government declared a state of emergency, detaining more than 18 000 people.

A storm of international protest followed the Sharpeville shootings, including sympathetic demonstrations in many countries and condemnation by the United Nations. Sharpeville marked a turning point in South Africa’s history as the country found itself increasingly isolated in the international community. The event also played a role in South Africa’s departure from the Commonwealth of Nations in 1961.

The Sharpeville massacre led to the banning of the PAC and ANC. It was one of the catalysts for a shift from passive resistance to armed resistance by these organisations. The foundation of Poqo, the military wing of the PAC, and Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC, followed shortly afterwards.