Debate on Human Rights Day


Remarks by Mr Ben Skosana MP

National Assembly: 16 March 2010




In recognition of the indivisibility of the fundamental rights of peoples everywhere, I beg for yours and the House's indulgence to take your memory back to where the journey began.


We lived in the L-shaped corrugated iron house well and spaciously built both by my father who worked as a driver and furniture polisher at a furnisher dealer in Vereeniging and my grandfather, a commendable carpenter in our locality. 'Vukuzenzele' popularly known as Vuka was a newly established extension of Sharpeville Township. It was an area designated for black families who were forcefully removed from Top Location where they held free hold title deeds to make way for white residential areas and commercial enterprises.


Both by father and my grandfather, in my presence, frequently indulged in politics. I often observed consistent gatherings at the nearby blacksmith where my grandfather and Mr Phakathi (the blacksmith) would be reading and at the same time interpreting the daily political bulletins to their audience of coal merchants and vehicle owners who had come to give their horses 'new shoes' and their vehicles renewed sets of spring shock absorbers. The question that often triggered the excitement amongst them was always "Unthini u Verwoerd namhlanje?" (What is Verwoerd saying today?) Followed by "kodwa um Afrika yena uthi" (but the African is saying this).

The political discussion usually took most part of the day. I knew this because my older brother worked for the blacksmith and I was always welcomed to run errands for my grandfather.


This was one of the many formative occasions when I learned about Dr. Verwoerd and his people and that they were largely responsible for the laws that made the African people - men, women and children - suffer. I must say that at the age of 13, I was being initiated in the 'collective historical consciousness of the African political thinking'. The afternoon and night of the 20th March 1960 revealed nothing suspicious for me. Moreover, at that tender age I could not clearly have imagined or let alone predicted the political fortunes of a township about to be engulfed by human tragedy, characterised by dead and maimed people, tears, fears and rage.


The dark early hours of the morning of the 21st saw widespread calls through loud hailers, thousands of pamphlets in the streets urging the people of Sharpeville not to go to work on that day, but to converge at the central police station to protest against the carrying of passes and if need be, burn them in full glare of the authorities. Obviously schoolteachers were not going to teach that day and so school children took that opportunity to give themselves a break from school. Later that morning some of us joined our old folks at the Sharpeville central police station.


When the day progressed, the protesting crowd around the police station began to swell enormously in numbers and with thumbs raised high, a resemblance of the shape of the African continent, chanted loudly "iAfrika Mayibuye".


From where I stood I could spot the occasional movement of the African negotiators in and out of the front office of the police station and every time they made an appearance, they would raise their thumbs high shouting "iAfrika" and the crowd would echo "Mayibuye". By that time a heavily armed contingency of police was prowling inside the station yard and more were arriving in police trucks and Saracens. Meanwhile the attempts by the people's negotiators led by the late Nyakane Tsolo, who I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago before he died, continued as previously followed by the chants "Mayibuye".


It was past the lunch hour when rumblings took the rounds that police officials wanted people to move away from the police station and gather at the nearby sports field, now known as George Thabe Stadium, about 2km away.

The people made no movement in that direction and what happened next made me believe that had the people moved towards that sports field, many more people would have been maimed and more killed.


First, it was the shattering sound of one shot then silence. The chanting stopped abruptly and was immediately followed by rapid gunfire, waves of protesters stampeded away from the fence and gates of the police station as the firing became fierce. This time it sounded more like a combination of rifles and machine gun fire. I could not see what was exactly happening behind me because like everybody else, I was running away from the police station as fast as I could. The gunfire was both frightening and confusing and there was an instant where I rushed through a gate into a yard frantically looking for sanctuary only to jump over the fence back into the street again where droves of people were running away. I remember vividly the image of a man running past me, his bloody hand clutching his left shoulder as if preventing his whole arm from falling off and the back of his overalls soaked in blood. The man had been shot. Frightened as I was, ironically I heard him say, 'ngiyitholile iAfrika yami' (I found my Africa).

It did not take long to reach home where I became more frightened when I did not see my father or grandfather. When the shooting stopped, it began to rain hard, perhaps God's way of washing away the blood and tears of His fallen people behind me. My folks came back unharmed, but without the car which was fetched later from the police station. (It was later discovered that the bullet that went through the right mudguard of my father's car shattered the hipbone of the woman who was standing next to it. The car can be seen in some pictures taken on that day).


This serves also as a plea from my party, the IFP, to the President of the Republic that the constant failure to deliver the basic rights timeously to the deserving majority is a reflection on the defective manner in which we have governed and we need a radical reappraisal of this, and to neglect the plight of Sharpeville will be seen as the ultimate betrayal of the embodiment of the long struggle of the African people for true freedom and independence.


The freedom struggle of the black people of South Africa marshalled ample cosmic companionship to decry the violation of human rights in the world.

Yet today, we stand at the brink of being accused ourselves of failure to fulfil the fundamental freedoms of our own people.



Mr Ben Skosana MP
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