On the 21 st March, a group of people made their way down Maduna Avenue in the township of Langa in Uitenhage. They were on their way to a funeral in the nearby township of KwaNobuhle. They never got to the funeral.
At the corner of Maduna Avenue and 15th Street, the police were waiting for them. A few seconds later, people lay dead and injured in the street. The police say they killed 20. But the people say at least 43 were killed that day.
The whole world was shocked and sickened by what happened that day.
They remembered what happened in Sharpeville on the very same day 25 years before. On that day the police shot and killed 67 people. The 21st March is a day that will never be forgotten.
Soon after the shooting in Langa, the Minister of Law and Order told pariliament that the people were carrying stones, sticks, bricks and petrol bombs. He said that when the people started throwing these things at the police, the police were forced to open fire.
The government then asked a judge to find out what happened. And so Justice Kannemeyer listened to the different stories. He listened to the police’s story. And he listened to the peoples’ story. The stories were quite different.
The police said the crowd were on their way to white homes in Uitenhage to kill white people. The police said that the people threw stones at them. But now they said that there were no petrol bombs.
The police showed photographs of stones lying near the dead. When a policeman was asked why there were no stones near the hippos, he said the stones bounced back. He said the stones bounced back 40 metres!
The people told the judge that they were marching peacefully along the road. They were not carrying petrol bombs, stones or anything else.
The people said they walked to the funeral because the police did not let them go in taxis. They said that they were not walking to the white peoples’ homes. They went the same way that children use everyday to go to school in KwaNobuhle.
The people said that the police gave no warning before they started shooting. They said the first bullet hit a young boy on a bicycle. And after the shooting, the police put stones in the hands of the dead and injured. The police also kicked and swore at the dead and injured.
The judge heard how most of the people were shot in the back – just like most of the people killed in Sharpeville 25 years before. And he heard how the police called the fire engines to clean the blood off the streets before they left.
One man told the judge that he heard the police talk about shooting all the injured people – so they could not talk. An ambulance driver said he saw a policeman pointinq to a man lying in the street in terrible pain – and then jokingly say that the man was “breakdancing”.
The ambulance men also said that they could not go to the dead and injured straight away. They were kept waiting outside the township by the police. The three ambulance men were fired after telling their stories to the judge.
The judge heard that the police did not have teargas or rubber bullets with them. They only had rifles and shot guns. And the judge heard that not even one policeman was hurt – not even by a little stone.
The shooting and the dying has not stopped. Many more people have died in the Eastern Cape since that terrible day in March. But people are not only dying in the Eastern Cape. They are dying in townships in every corner of this country.
People say that the problems started in Eastern Cape because of the town councils in the townships. Like the people in the Vaal last year, the people in the Eastern Cape have had enough of the councillors. They say that the councillors are “greedy crooks” . They say that the councils are doing the governments dirty work.
But, as most people will tell you, there are other reasons as well. Like the thousands of hungry people without jobs. Like the pass laws. Like the high cost of living and GST. Like the shortage of houses and crowded classrooms. Like detentions and the jailing of the peoples’ real leaders. And of course, because most people have no real say in the government of this country.
We pray and wait for the day when there won’t be all these reasons. We pray for the day when the shooting will stop and when blood will no longer be so cheap. We pray for that day.