About 70 survivors of apartheid crimes may continue their occupation of the Constitutional Court in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, ahead of what is expected to be a cold weekend.
The mostly elderly activists have held the steps of the famous court since Freedom Day on April 27th.
They are Demanding to speak to President Cyril Ramaphosa after a May 10 meeting with Justice and Corrections Minister Ronald Lamola failed to resolve their demands for redress by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for apartheid-era atrocities.
During the occupiers’ daily rallies, Gauteng provincial Khulumani support group leader Nomarussia Bonase promised “the government must find our bones buried under the Constitutional Court before we leave”. p>
But it is for bones already in the ground that most occupiers keep their vigil.
Gladys Siawela , 62, whose cheeks are as leathery as her hands, can sometimes still take the pulse of the army helicopter he heard – “Dooh, dooh, dooh, dooh,dooh!” – which erupted in the regular and violent raids on her home in Lady Frere in the former Transkei.< /p>
“It still hurts my ears,” she says.
A young Siawela never understood what was wrong with the elders in her family and community who were arrested. Some returned home after three years, others never.
Apartheid brutality dogged Siawela’s footsteps from the Eastern Cape to Gauteng. She was detained in Johannesburg for seven days in the early 1980s for not having an identity card with her. Later, in 1986, she was arrested again and jailed, this time with her five-year-old son, in Germiston for a month without charge. Then her son was killed in a police-led raid on her shanty town in 1992. Police dogs attacked him. His shoulder was broken. When she later found his body at a nearby hospital, his chest was riddled with gunshot wounds.
Germiston was at the center of the bloodshed instigated by apartheid police on the East Rand in the early 1990s when more than 3,000 people died were killed. Siawela recalls that Germiston’s green grass turned black from the violence.
Around the same time that Siawele and her son were languishing in a Germiston prison, police murdered Nkululeko Meyi’s mother before storing her body in Dragged Crossroads onto the street in Cape Town They let her for him to spot. Meyi remembers lying in the dust with his mother’s body in his arms. Within 10 days in May this year, 44 people were killed by violence in the police-backed Witdoekevigilante group in the city’s barrack settlements. A year earlier, police in Crossroads massacred 18 people in one day.
Meyi, now 69, with a unkempt, silvery beard, is one of the first occupiers of the Constitutional Court to shake off the cold in a patch sun every morning. His mother, a carefree person, he says, never irritable or mean, had followed him to Cape Town to run his spaza shop while Meyi looked for work.
“Inhliziyo isab’hlungu< /em>[My heart still hurts],” says Meyi, who believes the asthma he has today is due to the amount of police tear gas he inhaled in Cape Town, where to go he later returned as a municipal street cleaner.
Meyi, who never received TRC reparations, says he brought his mother’s case before the commission but had “closed the door on [him]”.< /p>
Broken but not silenced
Joyce Ntoni, 79, with her unusual gray eyes with blue rings, is another occupier awaiting redemption . The windows of her home in Cradock were regularly smashed, the door kicked in, and her daughter beaten and locked up. As chairwoman of the Cradock Youth Association, where she worked closely with the four community activists who were later murdered and christened the Cradock Four, Ntoni’s daughter was a constant target for police. A member of the ANC Women’s League in Cradock, Ntoni has also been active in combat. She would tell police approaching her daughter, “If you want to arrest her, you have to arrest me too.” Proud of her daughter’s “too active” role in the anti-apartheid struggle, Ntoni is sure it was the stress of these repeated invasions that later led to her daughter’s death from unspecified health complications. After apartheid authorities began murdering activists and survivors began to flee, Cradock, at the head of the Great Fish River in the Eastern Cape, became a “broken” town, says Ntoni.
Ntoni, Siawela, Meyi and her fellow squatters continue to sleep on concrete floors without shelter. With the bitter cold and possible thunderstorms descending on Gauteng this weekend, there is no indication yet that Ramaphosa intends to meet with the occupiers.
Editor’s note: This is an evolving story and has been amended to reflect that the cast may or may not last through the weekend.
This article was first published by New Frame.< /p>