Activists murdered, an old woman cries out and the people mourn

2011-12-12 00:00

EARLY one Saturday morning I was phoned by Pauline Stanford, one of the trade union officials, to tell me not to come to the Mpophomeni Co-op because three activists had been murdered the night before. I had worked closely with them and the rest of the community. I went with Pierre Cronjé, then a Progressive Federal Party (PFP) member of Parliament, whom activists frequently consulted for the power he still possessed among the police and soldiers. He and I arrived early, at about 6.30 am. By doing this we avoided the road block which would see Archbishop Dennis Hurley ordered out of his car and have the police quite literally strip it in search of, one presumes, guns or bombs.

When we entered Mpophomeni we were met by troops of soldiers, all fully armed, as well as the army. People were slowly making their way to the Catholic Church. As I watched people going to the church I saw a young, blond police officer with a dog that he was using to terrify the people. An old woman walked past, a shawl around her, Bible in her hands. The police officer set his dog on her, not to bite, but in sheer contempt. The old woman cried out and fell, the police officer laughed and my heart broke. I still wonder if he ever thinks of what he did, and what he would think if someone did that to his Ouma.

The funeral was excruciatingly cruel, with no respect for the people in mourning. Worst of all, the police had decided to release the bodies one at a time, so when the first body was buried, the next would leave Edendale and travel the 40 kilometres to Mpophomeni. It was a stinkingly hot day, but this gave the forces even more power to exacerbate the cruelty. No one was allowed outside the hall, which was filled to capacity, with many people standing. They refused to allow water to be brought in, and if anyone went to one of the two lavatories, which were soon overflowing, a police officer accompanied them and forced the women to leave the door open. The wait for the coffins was interminable, with the last one arriving at 4.30 pm. The police were in radio contact with the mortuary van and were constantly telling the drivers not to hurry.

They made a braai near the church and ate in front of the people, including children who were hungry and frightened. They taunted the elderly women and insulted the men using every obscene word one could think of. As we left at 6 pm our hearts were in our throats, broken, both by the murder of our three comrades and the way in which the mourners were being abused. We knew we would face a roadblock, but we were not sure what the forces would do to those dignified people of Mpophomeni. The only people who were at peace were the three dead trade unionists.

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