A black man had no say…a black man...the black people they only had representatives in parliament, by the same white people who oppressed us. Enough was enough. We’d been treated like animals in our country, we’d been called ‘boys’ in our country…monkeys. Our parents had been called ‘kaffers’ and all that. You would have to bow down even to a small child of a white man. You’d have to address a young [white] boy as 'klein baas’, 'klein miesies' to the girl. Such made the people angry as we were crying for rights in our own country.
The location was patrolled by police, dispersing people, charging at them, dogs let loose [on] people…biting people, but we managed to meet here in numbers. We surrounded the police station singing songs…"Mayibuye Iafrika", "Senzeni na? (Iafrika)." They came from different directions, with patrole vehicles, police vehicles, army vehicles…then we were surprised because the march was peaceful.
What was going to happen, amongst us, we didn’t know. At 2 o’clock, when we were supposed to get an answer [from police], we just heard buzzing, noises, we were surprised. "What’s happening?” It was a hail of blue lights, firing from all sides. We started to disperse and run away. There were old people there, some of the women were pregnant, some of the old men were still leaning on their bicycles, and there were small children. We were surprised [at] what was happening. We all dispersed. Me and one of my colleagues, we came and hid ourselves behind the shops nearby. There is a centre of shops we had. It sounded for about four minutes and then it was quiet. The rain fell. While the rain was falling, we started to discover that our clothes were soaked with blood. Dripping from our bodies to the ground.
I was already shot in my left foot and on my back side…and the bullet is still lying in my spinal cord at this moment that I speak to you. One of our colleagues who were hiding there, he just peeped…he said, “No it’s quiet." They were moving around, the cops, picking them [demonstrators] up, shooting those who were badly injured…finishing them off. Some with sharp instruments. We said no, they may come to us…let’s try to escape. Then they [police] arranged for ambulances to take us to Baragwanath hospital, which is now Chris Hani hospital. The following day, to my surprise, we found there were police [at] our bedside. I managed to ask one of the policemen, “And now…what’s happening now?” He said “You people… you're under arrest.” “What for?” “You’ve been throwing stones at the police. Charge: Public violence." We were ready, we were given clothes.
We were given the very same clothes that were soaked in blood and everything. It was dry and everything. I only had one shoe left because the one I was wearing on my right foot was lost when we were running away [from police]. We just heard the sound of a bunch of keys, locks and all that…no, we were arrested. We were given cells and locked up there [Boksburg prison]. Locking us up there, there was a case that had been launched. We used to come to Vereeniging court for court pending against our charges. We came for the first time…we didn’t come in court. We were there from 8 o’clock until half-past-four…sitting in the police trucks. Half-past-four we were taken back to where we’d been locked up.
The second chance came after two weeks. They came, they picked us up to come for the court hearing. When we were singing behind [in the back of] the trucks, singing our songs “Nkosi Sikelel' iafrika”, "Mayibuye Iafrika”, "Senzeni na? (Iafrika)”... they didn’t like our singing, because their faces were filled with...they had anger, hatred, [inaudible] in their faces. They were swerving the truck from all directions until he lost control of the vehicle. It capsized. I was one of those who got injured in the very same truck. I only remember waking up at the hospital at half-past-two. When I woke up I see, no…this is a different place. I see lights and everything…I see people surrounding me. [I said] "What’s happening here now?” “No, you are in hospital” [They said].
We were not shot for…we were shot for a good cause, and the blood that was shed there was shed for a good cause and it has nourished the freedom tree. Now we are living in a free country. After all the negotiations and our leaders released from prison we negotiated a peaceful settlement until now.But we are happy to be alive and those who lie in their graves…we are saying they should not lie there in shame.×
In the year 1960 I was home, people were moving up and down, all over the streets. My mother in law said I should go check what was going on outside, and that’s when I went to the police station.
When I arrived it was very full. I arrived and stood to the side. Shortly afterwards, police cars arrived in a convoy. The car in the front ran me over. I struggled to get up and tried to run towards shops nearby. When I approached the shops, I then heard gun shots, and a crowd started running behind me.
I tried to run behind the shops, but there were already people there and when I tried to hide myself with them, the crowd that was behind me fell on me. I was 3 months pregnant at the time. I then tried to get up, I couldn’t walk I couldn’t talk, I tried to make my way home slowly. When I got home, all I could do was signal that I needed water.
I couldn’t be taken to hospital because it was so dangerous outside. The following day I went to the doctor. I had to see him more frequently after the accident. After giving birth, I stayed in hospital for 6 months, because the baby was born with certain defects. The doctor was very helpful. He is the one who should be relating this story, because he saw the condition of the baby.
After that day, on the 21st of every month I could not leave my house. I would shut the windows and doors, and sit in the house. My baby, became well. After everything she became healthy like other children, she’s even married now with her own family.
That day was terrifying. After the events, even a plane flying in the sky would frighten us.×
I was brought up by my grandparents. I got injured in that war, I was 11 years old. On that day, the 21 March, early morning, my grandfather used his bicycle to go work. He left at around 5am, by then we’d also be up because we’d be preparing to go to school.
Then we just saw our grandfather coming back inside to tell my grandmother that it’s war outside, people have been told to go protest the dompas laws because they gave us problems. Immediately when you left your house, you needed to have it with you.
We tried to force our way to school but returned as all classes got cancelled. When I got home there was nobody, the house was locked. But because we were kids, we put our things outside and played for some time.
As we were busy playing, we saw airplanes or helicopters hovering over the area, circling around, and you could see they were there for war.
All of us dispersed and I had even forgotten that there was no one at home, I then ran and hid myself inside the toilet. By the time they hovered lower, I ran out as I remembered that my grandparents were at the police station.
When I got there I found so many people, chanting “Senzeni na?” At that point I was looking for my grandparents but the chanting was strong.
I was surfing through the crowds looking for my grandparents, when I heard a huge bang, and as I looked back to see where this huge sound came from, I saw scores of people running.
As they ran, I followed suit. There were screams as we ran away.
Along the way as I was trying to run away from the situation, I felt something hit me on my hand or arm, I kept running. Ahead I found this other gentleman, I didn’t even know who he was, as I didn’t know where I was going.
He held my hand and with a firm grip on my hand he ran fast, but at this point I was already feeling dizzy. When we got to a quieter place, the gentleman asked where I stayed.
I gave him a direction and we ran. On our way we met another gentleman, opposite of our house, his named Mr Motsumi.
He quickly ran back to his house and came back driving his car, and took me to Vereeniging hospital. When I got there, the last thing I remember was seeing a lot of people and my last word I remember I asked for a glass of water as I was thirsty. I had no idea what happened to me.
When I woke up the next day, I saw myself in this hospital ward, with a bandage in my hand.
It’s a good thing to remember where we come from but on top of remembering where we come from nothing has been done to recompense us. It seems like no one ever remembers this. It only happens when the day comes but after that they’re to quick forget.
There hasn’t been anything to cleanse us, to give us reparations, nothing.
I’m 67 years old now but I haven’t received anything. We keep crying daily as some people were given money and quickly after that TRC closed before all of us could be interviewed.
We call on the TRC to come so that we can also receive reparations.×
Okay, let me start…our main problem at the time was the dompas (ID). The dompas brought too many challenges. It was introduced in 1955 in the rural parts of Free State, mainly farms. At first we thought its advent was going to help set us free but it also had intrinsic regulations and hidden laws, restricting us from moving around freely.
You’d be taken to jail and despite the fact that all of us were black, there would be some kind of food we weren’t allowed to eat. They’d call some among us by name, single him out and give him nice food but others were ordered to produce their card (dompas), then he’d be told that his type of food isn’t the same as that of the others.
We had major issues with employers. We’d go out to look for jobs, we’d be classified and segregated and be told that there were certain kind of jobs we couldn’t get as a result of this dompas. And you couldn’t just go work where you wish or want because you were a dompas carrier.
We were then mistreated in the places of work due to things we couldn’t get as employees because we were not equal.
Even when we’d go to church, there were churches for black people only, not for everybody. It was for black people only.
And then after some time, say around 1960, that’s when all of us decided to come together and confront this challenge head-on, that’s when the whole problem began, where many people were shot at and killed.
That warfare brought us a lot of benefits. It set us free to be doing things we had always wanted to do, moving from one place to another without being asked where the dompas is.
We now could work anywhere we wanted to. The education system changed and we received a much better education, our children were able to gain access to places such as Vaal Tech.
Even in jails, things started changing, segregation was not prevalent no more.×
I stay by the corner, so when people were passing by they kept saying "Hey that side by the police station, at 2pm people will go to the stadium to get an answer about the news that they have arrived for" So because we were done cooking, we decided to go call our men to come eat. So the four of us locked up the house and decided to go. We decided to go the police station to see what was happening there. At the time we reached the cafe and saw people in front of tar-road.
We were there, that's when they started shooting. When they started shooting, like I said before, we were four women, the bullet only hit me out of the four. It pierced through my thigh, my left thigh and came out of from the back and I fell down. By the time I fell down I didn't know what had happened. I just met a nurse picking me up, holding me getting me into an ambulance going Vereeniging hospital. When we got there, because I had worked there before, I found a nurse that knew me and she said "Selena don't refuse, there are a lot of people here, look at them as they lay on the floor, when the ambulance arrives just climb on." Then I said ok. When they were picking me up with the ambulance it took me to Bara, when we got to Bara, they (police) were waiting when we arrived. Blood was all over me and we were placed on the floor.
I didn’t count how long we were at the hospital for to close the wounds. But before they were fully healed a huge truck arrived outside, it was looking for people from Sharpeville, from Izwelethu, we got exited saying we are going, saying Sharpeville, we got exited we packed up our clothes and got into that truck. We got into that truck thinking we were coming home, they said they were taking us home. Suddenly we saw that we weren’t going home and entered a gate built with rocks. They had taken us to Boksburg.
We realised that it was in fact Boksburg prison that we were entering. When we arrived there, we found that the police were aggressive towards us, they put us in some small room where we were sprayed with water with a hosepipe. It was white policemen, saying "Haal uit - take out those things inside of you". They told us to remove all the bandages. Our wounds were sprayed with water they were closed off but it was still sore when you held it. We sat there scared and they took us to the cells. The cells were very small rooms, smaller than this one, we were going in and they separated the four of us.
There in that corner there was a bucket were we would take a piss in that corner and there was water for us to drink. It was hard, we slept on the floor with our wounds, on the floor, black blankets were very light and we sat there.
Then one day my man came and the others from home Sharpeville saying they had come to fetch me. The police opened for me saying “Who is Selena Mnguni in here?” I stood up, I was scared, I was shaking, because when they came to look for us, it was just the four of us that they were counting, we were living hard in there, we kept crying the whole time that we were in there.×
Produced by Phumlani Pikoli & Reinart Toerien.
Translations by: Leeto Khoza, Kgomotso Modise & Seabelo Modise