Gugs 7 heroes left us a legacy

2016-03-31 06:00
Mcebisi Skwatsha, MP and deputy minister of Rural Development and Land Reform. PHOTO:

Mcebisi Skwatsha, MP and deputy minister of Rural Development and Land Reform. PHOTO:

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Thirty years ago Gugulethu lost its innocence in a hail of gunfire on NY 111, and has yet to properly healed.

When the gunsmoke cleared, and the chorus of township dogs reached its peak, seven young patriots lay dead in the dirt.

They were Mandla Simon Mxinwa, Zandisile Zenith Mjobo, Zola Alfred Swelani, Godfrey Jabulani Miya, Christopher Piet, Themba Molefi and Zabonke John Konlie.

Seven young freedom fighters lured into a trap by police and murdered in cold blood in the street. Brutally butchered. Photographs of police with firearms standing and smiling above the bodies of their victims, like hunters standing over their trophies, revealed the state of mind of our oppressor.

If the police thought their savagery would dissuade others from opposing the state, it was a total miscalculation. It galvanized us. The death of the Gugulethu Seven made us stronger. They did not die in vain.

I remember 3 March 1986 as if it were yesterday. It was a beautiful Monday morning. Around 7am. As we would say in my language: lalizole nasebukhweni be zinja.

South Africa was in the grip of a State of Emergency, and we knew the sound of gunfire. But this gunfire was different. On that fateful Monday morning the people of Gugulethu, Section 3 in particular, were literally shaken by the sounds of blazing, heavy calibre firearms.

The apartheid predator had struck. A police unit that included Major Dolf Odendaal and Warrant Officer Bellingham had spilled the blood of our patriots. We were to learn from witnesses that some were “finished off” at point-blank range, that firearms were placed on the bodies to give the appearance that it was the police who had come under attack.

The group had been infiltrated by police and their deaths were as a result of a chilling calculation.

We surged into the streets in great numbers to see what disaster had struck. The curious, the outraged and the terrified, multitudes of us, running towards the intersection of NY111 and NY1 to see the blood spilled on our community’s breast.

Christopher Piet, alone, had 18 bullets in his body. That night, his mother watched the television news and saw footage of her son being dragged by a chain around his neck, like a dog. Because, the police said, he may have had explosives under his body.

Although they had received some military training, the Gugulethu Seven were not battle-hardened soldiers. They were youths activists, and members of both the Cape Youth Congress (Cayco) and uMkhonto we Sizwe.

The seven were lured to their death by an Askari (former anti-apartheid soldier turned security police operative) called Jimmy Mbane.

Witnesses said some of the seven were shot with their hands in the air trying to surrender. But Police Minister Adriaan Vlok’s forces were very bloodthirsty that day, and were intent on making an example of them.

The Gugulethu Seven were martyrs; heroes of our liberation struggle. As we prepared to bury them, under the aegis of the UDF, the apartheid regime ran its usual interference to restrict the numbers of people who’d be allowed to attend the funeral. They failed dismally.

The UDF was a mass movement of many community structures, and it decided that the funeral would be a mass funeral.

On the following Saturday no less than 30 000 people gathered at the NY 49 stadium to bury their heroes.

I vividly remember the raw emotion at the event, and the taunting and intimidation of the police in their hippos and mellow yellows, including the helicopters above, which they used to drown out the singing of freedom songs.

And I remember the pride of confronting our enemy on our grounds, knowing that our liberation struggle was a righteous struggle, and that victory was therefore inevitable.

I felt very honoured to be among the youth from Cayco, who carried the coffins shoulder high that day together with the late Mike Coto and Melisizwe Zihlangu. We were marshaled by the ever militant orator the late Damda Mfaco. We felt so energized, so powerful, that we could have run all the way to Johannesburg.

That is the gift that the Gugulethu Seven bequeathed on us. Their deaths pushed the pendulum in our direction.

Children growing up in Gugulethu today are confronted by a very different set of realties to those we faced in the 1980s. They are much less likely to be shot by police, for a start.

But, if we are honest, we have yet to create the type of integrated, human, communities in Cape Town for which the Seven laid down their lives.

In the context of the city’s sprawling informal settlements, townships such as Gugulethu could be regarded as almost middle-class. But the Gugulethu of today is still too recognizable to that of yesterday.

Too many of our people still live if not below, the breadline. There is too much crime, and too many incidents of rape and abuse. Too wide a gulf in living standards between “suburbs” and “townships”, and we still call our streets, Native Yards – as in NY 1, where a monument to the Gugulethu Seven has been erected.

It is good to erect monuments to fallen heroes, to acknowledge their contributions to society. But we owe more to the Gugulethu Seven than acknowledgement. We must actively remember what they struggled for. Their dreams for justice and a better life continue to sustain us today.

We owe it to ourselves and to our children never to forget. We may forgive, but we shall never forget!!!

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