Three decades later and having women and children die in his hands remains a vivid memory for Makhosana Siphengane.
The 60-year-old still feels he failed the women and children who died in his hands as he knelt beside them and prayed for their lives.
Siphengane, a former member of the self-defence unit, which carried out night vigils and patrolled Boipatong, said he couldn’t forgive himself for failing the 45 people who were killed during the Boipatong Massacre on June 17, 1992.
“I held pregnant women, women who had been shot. I was praying for them, asking them not to die and trying to assure them that help was on the way,” he told City Press at the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the massacre held in Boipatong on Friday.
READ: OPINION | Sharpeville, Boipatong massacres give me hope we'll get through Covid-19, but it took memories I'd chosen to forget
“I do not know how many of the victims I held in my hands as they lost their lives. I had blood on my hands. I will never forget that. How does one get over that?”
Siphengane shared that while his team was overpowered by “white men who had come into the area in military vehicles”, he and his men fought as best as they could.
“We had self-made weapons, which used sharp nails as ammunition. There must have been about 10 to 15 of us trying to contain white soldiers who had come into the area with about 10 military vehicles.
On Friday, survivors of the massacre, as well as family members of those who lost their lives 30 years ago, visited the graves of the deceased at the Vuka Cemetery in Sharpeville and offered prayers. There was also a wreath-laying ceremony.
Addressing them, Emfuleni mayor Sipho Radebe said those who had been brutally slaughtered paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
“The only sin that was carried by those who were targeted and killed was the colour of their skin.
“The people of Boipatong will never forget the brutality in this area on this day in 1992, where innocent people and children who could not even defend themselves were targeted and slaughtered. The wound of the families of those who lost their lives will always run deep.”
One such individual is Joseph Gcina, who told City Press that at the time, he and his wife had just bought a home in this township in Sedibeng.
Boipatong was home to black people working in surrounding areas.
“I lived with my wife at the time. Just the two of us. We had just bought a house. We were happy and were looking forward to our future together, then the devil came and took her away from me,” he said sombrely as he tried to hold back his tears. As his eyes welled up, he added: “To this day, my heart is broken. I can’t say any more than that.”
Forty-five people lost their lives on that fateful day. Sipho Khumalo, the assistant manager of the Sedibeng District responsible for heritage and museums, said that it was difficult to ascertain how many people survived one of the bloodiest mass killings in South Africa.
READ: No proof of whites at Boipatong
“The number of survivors may vary because we have not documented them quite well.
“A lot of the people left the area after that tragic night. We do not have an exact number, but it could be about 60 survivors based on the number of shacks that were attacked. Some people died later due to injuries they had sustained as a result of the massacre.”
Khumalo explained that the government needed to do more to help the survivors and family members of those who lost their lives and are still struggling both emotionally and mentally.
The Boipatong Massacre remains one of the bloodiest and most brutal moments of violence that engulfed the country between 1984 and 1993. It saw armed marauders hack, stab and shoot their way through the township.