JOHANNESBURG July 23 1996 Sapa

TRUTH BODY WRAPS UP JUNE 16 HEARINGS IN SOWETO

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's human rights violations committee on Tuesday completed its hearings of submissions on the June 16, 1976 Soweto pupil uprising, which police put down with force and led to widespread unrest across South Africa.

The daughter of one of two white men killed by rioting pupils in Soweto on June 16, 20 years ago, appealed to the commission for a monument dedicated to her father, Dr Melville Edelstein.

Janet Goldblatt, 32, flanked by her sister Shana Edelstein, appealed for witnesses to recall her father's last words and reveal the circumstances of his death. She said her family was plagued and mystified by the her father's death. "He loved the people of Soweto almost like he did his own family," and believed all should be educated equally.

She said her father had a doctorate in sociology and worked for the West Rand Administration Board in an advisory capacity, setting up workshops for disabled people, and was involved in charity work.

Her father had never feared for his life working in Soweto, although he had indicated to her mother a week before his death that he was worried about the mood of pupils in the township.

Chairperson of the commission's reparations and rehabiliation committee, Hlengiwe Mkhize, said Goldblatt's request for a monument at the site of her father's death was a challenge for the Soweto community.

The commission also heard of the anguished search by parents for the body of an Umkhonto we Sizwe cadre killed by police during Soweto's years of unrest.

In an emotional testimony Puleng Swartbooi - mother of MK cadre Bushy Swartbooi - told how African custom demanded the family return to the site of the death to "fetch the spirit" of their son.

Swartbooi was killed with fellow MK cadre Skhriwi Ramakopa in a shoot-out with police at a roadblock in the former Western Transvaal.

His mother broke down after telling the hearing the African National Congress had not informed her of her son's death.

She said Bushy had gone into exile in September 1976 after recovering from being shot by police in a helicopter during pupil uprising.

Johannes Dube, who was blinded when he was shot by people travelling in the police's notorius "green car", was one of several witnesses who asked the commission for compensation.

Dube said he had only received R15000 compensation after the shooting in which his friend Thomas Malazo was also injured.

This was "very little" compared to what other pupils injured in the uprisings had received.

Christina Buthelezi, paralysed by a police bullet on June 16, asked the commission to help her get her own wheelchair.

Buthelezi, a Standard Seven pupil at the time, said she had taken part in the march, but was shot later that afternoon while walking home from her aunt's house where she had been to collect some books.

She said while in hospital armed policemen had questioned her, insisting she was Antoinette Sithole, the sister of Hector Peterson, the first pupil shot dead by police in the uprising.

"They showed me a photo of Hector Peterson lying on the ground where he had been shot," she said.

Another witness, former journalist Sophie Thema, told the commission she had asked her driver to take Peterson, Sithole and a man who was carrying Peterson to a nearby clinic.

Thema said she had followed on foot, but when she got to the clinic Peterson had died from a bullet wound to the throat.

Finance and Fiscal Commission chairperson Murphy Morobe, a pupil leader at the time, told the commission the policemen who shot pupils in Soweto in 1976 had a lot to explain.

He said police opened fire after pupils killed a police dog and taunted them.

He said the pupil march, to protest against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools, had been peaceful until a police convoy arrived and a police dog was set on the marchers.

Pupils attacked by the dog killed it, and the police opened fire.

A teargas cannister was lobbed into the crowd as another group of pupils approached and children started scattering in all directions.

The policemen got back into their vehicles, which were stoned.

Morobe said what struck him was that most of the policemen were black, "pointing guns at their own children", and that the commanding officer was white.

Asked whether the police might have panicked when faced by a crowd of angry pupils, he said the pupils themselves had panicked.

In a panic situation people often did stupid things, but this was not expected of the police.

Peterson, he said, must have been killed while the police were leaving the area. They were apparently firing from their vehicles.

Morobe said pupil leaders who planned the June 16 march had placed an emphasis on discipline so that the authorities would not have any reason to act against the marchers.


South African Press Association, 1996
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