Lest we forget 21 March 1960

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pretoria - Abram Mofokeng and Johannes Sefatsa were only 20 at the time of the Sharpeville Massacre. But the tragic events of 21 March 1960 will always linger as a horrible memory despite the freedom that South Africans now enjoy as a result of that day.

In the early hours of that fateful day thousands of men, women and children, gathered on the streets of Sharpeville to protest against the draconian pass laws imposed on them by the Apartheid system.

Mofokeng had woken up at 5:30 am, his mind heavy with the thought of what the day would bring. But, nothing could have prepared him for what lay ahead for himself, his friends and family as he went about his morning routine.

The melodic notes of freedom songs pierced the autumn air and floated through the streets of Sharpeville. Mothers, fathers, children and the elderly came in their numbers to protest for the right to their freedom of movement.

"We woke up at 5:30 am on March 21. We had planned to meet on the main street in Sharpeville. We organised each other and planned to march to the police station. The march was peaceful until the police came.

"Helicopters were flying all around us, but we kept on marching and kept singing songs like the national anthem. The police came in full force. And then, out of nowhere I heard gunshots, and we all ran in different directions." Mofokeng recalls the palpable confusion and fear that ensued.

By the end of the day, sixty-nine people were killed. Eight were women and 10 children. Of the 180 people who were wounded, 31 were women and 19 were children.

Mofokeng, who had been hiding in a nearby building, said he did not realise that he had been shot until he and a few others came out from hiding.

"I was shot in the foot and the buttocks and a bullet got lodged in my spinal chord," he recalls. "Ambulances were all around us. Those of us that were injured were taken to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. I stayed there for three months."

When he was discharged, he was taken to the Boksburg Cinderella Prison where he remained for another three months. Those arrested with him were taken to court on three occasions and on all occasions never saw the inside of a courtroom.

"While we were inside the police vans, we sang. The police hated it," he says.

"The last day that we were taken to court our van overturned and I woke up in hospital. I was then told that I had received bail and that my sister would pick me up. I drove home with my sister excited at the thought of seeing my family."

While the environment was tense months after the massacre, Mofokeng was happy to be with his family.

"Everything ended in September but by that time I had lost my job," says the now 70-year-old.

For 69-year-old Sefatsa, March 21 will always be a sombre one for him and his family. His then 28-year-old brother, Samuel, was killed.

"We gathered on Seiso Street, chanting slogans, ready to march peacefully," he said. "The police were waiting for us when we arrived at the police station and we were told that someone would address us. I left the gathering a while later as nobody was there to address us. A few minutes after leaving, I heard shots but I thought it was firecrackers," he recalls.
Sefatsa says he ran towards the police station without thinking that he would be caught in the crossfire. The only person on his mind was his brother.

"I met someone along the way who said they had seen my brother falling to the ground. When I got there I saw that he had been shot in the stomach and the bullet went right through. People tried to console me and told me he was still alive, but I knew he was gone."

Sefatsa says he will never forget that day - Samuel was the breadwinner.

"It was very difficult, hunger really made us angry," he said.

Today, the married father of three says while he may never forget the look on his brother's face, he hopes that the youth of today will look back and appreciate the freedom that they have.

"Apartheid was cruel to us, but I hope that the youth understand that we fought for them, for their freedom."

Mofokeng also hopes that South Africans see the sacrifices that were made 50 years ago. And as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the victory over apartheid, he hopes that lessons learnt will be passed on to future generations.

"All I can say is that that day led to a happier life for our children. I hope that they respect it."