Pallo Jordan on the Massacres at Bisho (1992) and Marikana (2012)

Like so many of the landmarks along our long walk to freedom, September 7th 1992 does not mark a happy occasion. It was day on which the political and social forces striving to give birth to a democratic South Africa, clashed head-on with the joint forces of reaction represented by the tin-pot military strongman, Brigadier Oupa Gqozo and the die-hards of the apartheid regime. Twenty-eight people were mowed down in a desperate act of repression.


On the 8th September 1992, then President of the ANC, Comrade Nelson Mandela’s issued a public statement on the Bhisho Massacre. The message read in part:

“Each one of the people who lost their lives at Bisho yesterday, 7th September, was a unique human being. The daughter or the son of some mother; the father or mother to some child; a person linked to a home, to a community of relatives and friends who had loved, cherished and nurtured her or him for many years in the hope of a continuing and shared future.


Thousands marched full of hope for a better tomorrow. Dozens did not return.

Those fateful four minutes of gunfire, that reverberated through the length and breadth of South Africa, snuffed out those lives as if they were of no consequence. The staccatto of those automatic weapons added one more grisly episode to the already bloodstained annals of twentieth century South Africa.


The facts of what occurred have been established by the international media and eyewitnesses representing local and international agencies whose reputations are beyond reproach. The shootings were unprovoked and were not preceded by any warning. Lethal force was employed as the first option of the Ciskei Security Forces in circumstances that did not even remotely warrant its use.


We condemn these killings in the strongest possible terms!


To the bereaved families; to the relatives and friends who have lost their loved ones we offer our heartfelt condolences. The words of comfort and sympathy we pronounce can however do nothing to restore the lives that have been so brutally cut short . We can but hope that these few tokens of our deep concern will lend them the support to alleviate their sorrow. We mourn with the communities of the Border region that continue to bleed even while our country makes its troubled transition from the autocracy of apartheid to democracy.


From this day, Bhisho will rank alongside Boipatong on that roll call of infamy that recounts the past two years of F.W. de Klerk’s incumbency. The authors of yesterday’s massacre already stand condemned in the eyes of the nation and the world for their criminal actions.”

Twenty eight people were killed on September 7th 1992, two years before South Africa’s first democratic elections. 200 more were wounded in a fusillade that lasted more than 1 minute. The massacre at Bhisho followed close on the heels of the Boipatong Massacre of 17th June 1992, when armed assailants organised by the Third Force attacked a small township, killing 45 people and injuring scores. It was later revealed that the attack was an aspect of “Operation Marion”, a destabilisation campaign run by the generals of military intelligence to thwart progress to democratic elections. Though Dr Mangosutho Buthelezi strenuously denied any involvement by his party or supporters in that murderous incident, at the TRC six members of the IFP applied for amnesty for their involvement in the Boipatong massacre!


During the centenary year of the ANC, on 16th August 2012, thirty four mineworkers were killed. Eighteen years into South African democracy, the first post-democracy state massacre occurred under circumstances that still need to be unpacked and closely investigated by a judicial enquiry.


The circumstances and the environment in which these two massacres took place does make them vastly different events. Yet;


• Who is here so bold as to say the tears shed for those who died on August 16th 2012 are less bitter than those shed for the fallen of September 7th 1992?


• Who is here so callous as to suggest that the death of a father, a husband, a brother, a son, a relative, a neighbour – is less painful because those who fired the shots were employed by a different government?


• Who is here, so heartless as to suggest that the lives lost at Marikana are less valued, less precious, less important than those of the victims of Boipatong and Bisho?


• Who is here so hard-hearted, insensitive and cold as to suggest that our humanity; the humanity of our community; the humanity of our people, of all South Africans was not violated when the live ammunition was fired into a crowd of protesting mineworkers?


• Who is here so unfeeling as not to recognise that this massacre and the blood of the fallen cry out for a thorough and intense investigation to get to the root causes of this terrible tragedy and to hold to account those responsible?


We are here today to mark one of those terrible moments in South Africa’s march to democracy, 7th September 1992. In the euphoria that accompanies much of our celebration of our democracy we too often forget the price that was exacted from our people before we arrived at 27th April 1994.