‘Butcher of Bhisho’ finds God

2011-10-22 22:59

Oupa Gqozo was once a powerful man, the kind who tried to evade murder charges by brazenly telling a Ciskei Supreme Court judge that “the king can do (me) no harm”.

According to residents of Luphondweni, a village opposite Gqozo’s farm, he employed villagers, and some of his sons’ friends lived there as well.

But Blacklands is a shadow of its former self with its crumbling walls, overgrown grass and a deserted guardhouse at the gate.

Gqozo moved here in about 1994 and the farm also briefly housed the Ciskei Intelligence Service after the bloodless coup in 1990, in which Ciskei Defence Force officers, including Gqozo, ousted dictator Lennox Sebe while he was on a state visit to Hong Kong.

Around Blacklands and at Ndevana, where he attends the local International Assemblies of God branch, Gqozo is seemingly still a feared man.

Few would talk to City Press about his past.

“Nizomenza ntoni umfundisi wam (what are you going to do to my pastor)?” asked a young woman who attends the church when quizzed about Gqozo.

Along with her father, she later chased City Press away, threatening to call the police.

“Andibazi ababafana bafuna ntoni aph’ekhaya (I don’t know what these young want from us),” she shouted.

Gqozo’s most daring act, which earned him the epithet “butcher of Bhisho”, was allegedly authorising the gunning down of 28 marchers in September 1992.

A crowd of about 80?000 – joined by struggle icons Chris Hani, Cyril Ramaphosa, Steve Tshwete and Harry Gwala – marched to the Bhisho Stadium, demanding Gqozo’s resignation.

In his testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Gqozo said his government had tried to stop the march through a Zwelitsha Magistrates Court application, which the ANC successfully opposed.

Gqozo said he was in the bantustan’s parliament, not far from the stadium, when the massacre occurred and was never involved in the security operations, which he left to commanders.

Gqozo resigned on the eve of the 1994 elections and formed his own political party, the African Democratic Movement, which could only garner 9 886 votes in the historic democratic elections.

His failure to make a significant impact in the first elections precipitated his fall from grace.

He worked as late prominent sangoma Keke “Gonondo” Mama’s bodyguard in Middledrift, where he was shot during an armed robbery. He later suffered serious burn wounds after he erroneously poured petrol into a stove instead of paraffin.

A few years after retiring, Gqozo opened a “bed and breakfast” on his farm but it failed to take off. Now, all that’s left are fading written price lists at the property’s gate.

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