Anger in the Vaal

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“They picked up dead bodies in Sharpeville every day this week. They picked up dead schoolchildren, dead mothers and fathers, dead community councillors. By the end of the week they had found 30 bodies – but residents said there were more.”

That’s how one newspaper wrote about the anger and the pain in Sharpeville at the beginning of September. And it wasn’t only Sharpeville. It was the same in Evaton, Sebokeng, Boipatong and Bophelong.

Nobody knows how many people died and how many were injured. But people say Sebokeng hospital was full. And many more people lay hurt in their homes. They were too scared to go to hospital. They said the police were waiting there to arrest them.

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Police in the Vaal

It all began when the Lekoa town council sent letters to people saying the rent was going up. Very few people voted for this council. And very few people have money to pay more rent.

The people met in a church in Sharpeville to talk about ways to fight the rent increase. The people chose a special rent committee to talk for them.

At a meeting on the first Sunday in September, two thousand people met at the church. They decided to call for a stay-away from work and from school the next day. They would then march to the council offices· to complain about the new rent. They decided to have a peaceful march.

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Sharpeville 1984

But it didn’t work out that way. Some people say that the people lost their tempers when they went to a councillor’s house. They wanted him to join them in the march – and he started shooting at them. Some people say the trouble started because the police were everywhere – and that never helps anything. Others say that the people had just had enough.

“Many people have no jobs and the cost of living goes up every day,” says one person from the Vaal. “Rents, permits and transport go up. Then there are water and electricity bills. And then sales tax went up. And just last month H.P. charges went up. And after all this, wages stay the same.

“And then we have many people losing jobs, mostly in the steeI and chemical factories. And then we must talk about the terrible housing shortage. People live squashed up like animals – and they don’t have much chance of getting a bigger or better house.

“But most of all the people have had . enough of greedy councillors. These councillors eat and eat – and then they just wipe their mouths clean. They own most of the shops and businesses in the township. And they are always trying to get more.

“The people hate the councillors because they are greedy. But they hate them more for doing things without talking to the people first. They just tell the people what to do ­ and nobody chose them in the first place.”

Three councillors were killed and their houses and businesses were burnt down. But the people also burnt and looted other shops and homes. Why?

“The newspapers say that the people went for Indian shops:’ says another person. “But this isn’t true. Nearly every shop was looted and burnt down. The dry-cleaning shop full of clothes belonging to African people was burnt down. I lost my jacket in the fire. I think people looted shops because they were hungry – a hungry stomach knows no law.”

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Some leaders were not happy about some of the things that people did.

One leader said that at times ‘tsotsis’ took over. Quite a few people were stabbed when people fought over goods in the shops.

Rent was the main… reason for the anger. But most people say it’s more than rent. It’s more than the hated councillors. It’s more than the shortage of houses and jobs. It’s all of these things.· It’s the way the government treats black people in this country. Until the government throws away all of apartheid, they will have anger and hatred – just like we saw in the Vaal.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

A councillor’s house in Sharpeville


Save the Sharpeville Six

Untitled0-3On Monday, the 3rd of September, 1984, the townships in the Vaal blew up. People were angry about the new, high rents the Lekoa Town Council said they must pay.

People in Evaton, Sebokeng and Sharpeville all marched to the Council offices. But people never reached the offices. Police arrived and shot teargas and rubber bullets at the marchers. People ran in all directions.

By the end of that week, thirty one people were dead. Four of the dead were councillors. Shops and buses were burnt and stoned. More than R30 million rand’s worth of damage was done.


Nearly a year later eight people went to court, charged with the murder of Jacob Dlamini – a councillor from Sharpeville who was killed during the march.

On the 13th December, 1985, the judge said Reginald Sefatsa, Reid Mokoena, Oupa Diniso, Theresa Ramashamola, Duma Khumalo and Francis Mokhesi were guilty of murder. They were sentenced to death.

Motseki Mokubung and Gideon Mokone, who were also charged were found guilty of public violence and ‘subversion’. The judge said they must both go to jail for eight years.


Since this time, the Sharpeville Six, as people call them, have spent more than a year in ‘death row.’ But people have not forgotten them. And the fight to save their lives goes on. Someone from the Vaal Information Service told Learn and Teach why people are fighting against their sentences.

“We feel that these people are not guilty. If you want to say that anyone is guilty of the murder, then everyone who lives in Sharpeville is guilty.”

Councillor Dlamini's house after his death

Councillor Dlamini’s house after his death

“On the 3rd of September, 1984, the march started off peacefully. And when people went past Mr Dlamini’s house, they did not want to hurt him. They wanted to ask him to join the march. But when Mr Dlamini took out his gun and started shooting, people were very frightened and angry.”

“We feel that the Sharpeville Six were sentenced to death, not because they were guilty, but because the government wanted to use them as a lesson. They want to scare people to stop fighting against apartheid.”

“We worked hard, telling people what was happening with the court case. We held house meetings. Now everyone is waiting to see what will happen. The lawyers hope that the appeal will be heard in the Appeal Court later this year.”

In the meantime, there is one thing in the minds of the people in Sharpeville.

Everyone is saying, “Save the Sharpeville Six”
THE SHARPEVILLE SIX – by their families

Susan Diniso, Mma Sefatsa, Mme MaMokoena, Mamamchedi Ramashamola and Betty Khumalo - waiting for their loved ones who are in 'death row'.

Susan Diniso, Mma Sefatsa, Mme MaMokoena, Mamamchedi Ramashamola and Betty Khumalo – waiting for their loved ones who are in ‘death row’

MMA SEFATSA – wife of Reginald, Accused No. 1

Reginald and I were married in 1980. We have a two year old child. When Reginald was arrested, he was not working. But he tried to make ends meet by selling apples at the station.

I remember when the police came to arrest him. We were woken up early in the morning. They told my husband that they wanted Dlamini’s gun. When he said he did not have it, they slapped him and took him away.

I did not know what to do. So I went to the Vaal Information Service and they helped me to find a lawyer. I was in court the day the judge gave the sentence. I could not believe it when I heard that Reginald was charged with murder.

When I saw Reginald afterwards, all I said was that he must not worry – he must know that I’ll always be with him. And that I know that he is not guilty.

I am struggling to make ends meet now. The SACC and the Red Cross are helping us. But it is still difficult.

I know that Reginald is not guilty. And I am hoping that they will win the appeal. Reginald is also full of hope.

MME MAMOKOENA – mother of Reid, Accused No. 2

My son, Malebo Reid Mokoena, was detained in the morning of 9th November, 1984. The police arrived and told Reid to dress. They told the rest of us to stay inside.

Reid was working at Tralco Engineering when he was arrested. The saddest thing is that when he was arrested, we were talking to the family of his girlfriend. His girlfriend was pregnant and they wanted to get married.

After the police took Reid away, we looked for him everywhere but we could not find him. So we gave up. Then the police told us to go to Vereenging police station. Reid was there. He looked very happy. But I was very worried because Reid has never been in jail before. People were very kind to us. They helped us with transport and they helped us to find lawyers for him.

My son was always very good to me. He was a very friendly person. His friends called him ‘Ja Baas’ because he always shouted ‘Ja.’ But at home we called him ‘Bobo’ because he looked like a baby.

Reid’s girlfriend had her baby. We call him Thabang and he is a year old now. We took him to see his father once. But we do not take him anymore because the people at the prison say no children are allowed.

I could not go to the trial everyday but his girlfriend went. When Reid’s girlfriend told me the judge said they were guilty, all I said was, ‘Why did you tell me that?’ That day I thought I would die.

I know that Reid is not guilty. And I pray to God and our ancestors that they will win their appeal.

I want to thank all the people who helped us. I wish them the best. I hope that their organisations grow and get strong.

SUSAN DINISO – wife of Oupa, Accused No. 3

Oupa was born in Sharpeville. He is the oldest of seven children. When he finished school, he went to work for Stewarts and Lloyd. He worked there for eight years.

I met Oupa when we were at school. We got married in 1982. We have two children, Lindiwe, who is three and Thembile, who is eight years old.

Oupa is not interested in politics. His main interest was golf and his children – he loved the children very much.

The police came on 9th of November 1984. They said they wanted to ask him some questions about a gun. Oupa gave them the gun but they still took him away.

I went to the court case nearly every day. I did not believe it when the judge said they were guilty.

Now I visit Oupa three times a week. He is in prison in Pretoria. Oupa is strong. He is sure that they will win their appeal.

We are struggling at home – I do not work. And the children are always asking, “Mama, where is our father?’ But I never lose hope that one day Oupa will be at home with us.

MAMACHEDI RAMASHAMOLA – sister to Theresa, Accused no. 4

Theresa finished Standard Five at the Catholic primary school, here in Sharpeville. When Theresa was arrested, she was working as a waitress at a burger bar.

I was not at home when the police came to get Theresa. I was visiting in Lesotho. When I came home, I found my mother in a very bad way. She used to cry all the time. Now she tries to keep calm.

We miss Theresa very much at home. She was always a very happy person. She brought much laughter to our house. I think about her all the time.

I visit Theresa most of the time. It is very difficult for my mother to go as she is working. She can only go when she has time off.

People must give us support so that Theresa gets free.

BETTY KHUMALO – wife of Duma, Accused No. 7

Duma was busy studying at the Sebokeng Teachers Training College when he was arrested. I was staying with my parents at the time. His brother came to tell me. It was very painful. I just could not believe it, especially when I heard they were charged with murder.

I had to take time off work to go to the court case. Even now, if I want to see him, I must take time off.

In the beginning I missed Duma very much. He is a very jolly somebody. But now I am used to Duma not being around.

After Duma was arrested, there was a big tragedy in the family. His younger brother was stabbed to death.

Now I am living with his father because there is no-one to look after him. I am looking forward to the day that Duma will be back at home with us.

Ntate Mokgesi - "Francis was a good son to me"

Ntate Mokgesi – “Francis was a good son to me”

NTATE MOKGESI – father of Francis, Accused No. 8

Francis, or Don, as his friends called him, was brought up to be a good Catholic boy. He went to the Catholic school in Sharpeville and then to Saint Theresa’s in Herschel. He was working at the O.K. Bazaars.

Francis’s great love in life was football. He was a professional football player. He played for the Vaal Professionals. Francis has always been a very good son to me. He was a happy person – not short-tempered at all. He treated me with respect and he helped me with money. Now that Francis is in jail, we all live off my pension.

We miss Francis at home. His wife and his child are living with me now. It is very hard for them.

When I heard that the judge said that Francis was guilty, I nearly died of shock. It is a sign that God is great that I am still alive today.

I don’t like to visit Francis in prison. When I go there, the tears just run down my cheeks – I cannot stop them. And I know my tears make Francis feel sad too. So it is better that I do not go.

As a Christian, I feel that I must take things as they come. And my faith in God keeps me going. But my greatest wish is that Francis will come home before I die.

What more can we say except that we stand with Reginald, Reid, Oupa, Theresa, Duma and Francis. And we wish their families strength to face the difficult time ahead – waiting for their loved ones at home.