The Winterveld Massacre

Start Date End Date
2028-03-19 0000-00-00
The shooting by Bophuthatswana Defence force members,of protestors in Winterveld, leaving eleven people dead.

Winterveld was a vast squatter camp on the outskirts of Garankuwa in the former Bophuthatswana. A large number of the residents were not  Batswana. From the beginning of the Bophuthatswana period, the majority of residents objected to Winterveld's incorporation into the homeland. In retaliation the government of Bophuthatswana threatened to withdraw economic and other rights from people who did not take out Bophuthatswana citizenship. It became evident early in the 1980s that the Winterveld community was to suffer further discrimination. At a Commission of Inquiry into local and regional government in South Africa, the Bophuthatswana Minister of land and urban affairs reported that no local government was planned for the area as it would provide a platform for opposition to Bophuthatswana for non-Tswanas. In 1983, Boputhatswana opted for the so-called "Nigerian Option" or simply, the expulsion of all non-Tswana's from Winterveld, regardless of whether they held employment or not. At the heart of it was a campaign of violence and harassment-the police knew that few would voluntarily accept such an edict. One of the first sections to be ordered to move were people living in Bospaas, who took the matter to court in 1984, and surprisingly succeeded in reversing the order to move. Nevertheless this occurred only after the after the defendants were beaten by the Bophuthatswana police. A study of NGO's in Winterveld concluded that the area was "transformed into a resilient community which continuously resisted ‚Ķsegregationist homeland policies" largely through the adoption of a policy of non-cooperation. 

 Informal traders in Winterveld also felt the brunt of state intemperance in 1985 when they were removed from their stands, despite Bophuthatswana's espousal of free market principles.  
Given this kind of situation a conflagration seemed likely. On March 26, 1986, members of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force shot and killed eleven residents attending a meeting in protest over the detention of youths and children in the area. This particular incident was born out of an earlier decision by residents to join a boycott of white shops in Pretoria. It was in fact the activities of South African based organizations in Bophuthatswana, such as the United Democratic Front, and the determination of the authorities to stamp them out that provide the backdrop to this incident.  The March 26 incident therefore needs to be seen in context of continuing state terror and intimidation of the Winterveld community, including the Catholic Church, and the Metal and Allied Workers Union of South Africa, for at least a decade, which became even more large-scale and arbitrary in the early months of 1986.
On the fateful day in question over a thousand residents had gathered at a stadium to hear a report back on the detention of the schoolchildren. When the delegation due to give the address arrived at the stadium they found it surrounded by a large force of Bophuthatswana police and soldiers commanded by the Colonel Molope. Confusion seemed to reign, while the delegates attempted to gain assurances from Molope that the meeting could go ahead, and the crowd grew restless in the stadium. Eventually Molope addressed the crowd, telling them that the meeting was illegal, and individuals could approach him directly to find out about their own children. Much of what he said reportedly was inaudible. Shortly afterwards, teargas was thrown into the stadium and the police and BDF started randomly shooting, killing the eleven. About 200 people were injured and about 2,500 arrested in the wake of the event. The Bophuthatswana version is that elements in the crowd were throwing stones and petrol bombs at the authorities, and that they crowd had repeatedly been asked to disperse, but subsequent evidence given to a commission of inquiry strongly contradicts this.  

Molope was a controversial figure in GaRankuwa.  He was among those named as the arch attackers of the unionists in the lead-up to the shootings, and was believed to have put one organizer in hospital. Later he was named as a respondent in three Supreme Court applications arising from alleged brutalities perpetrated by the police against Winterveld residents. An attempt on his life had been made as far back as February 1985. In an act of unbelievable insensitivity, Molope was promoted to Brigadier, and another of the men responsible on that day, Major Mokobyane was made a Colonel.   A spokesperson for the police denied that the promotions were a "seal of their approval" of their conduct on that day.  Just three months after the shootings. Molope was gunned down in the "Beirut" area of  Winterveld. Five shots from AK-47 rifles ended his life. Johnson Mlambo commander in chief of the PAC's military wing, APLA, claimed his organization was responsible. This has never been confirmed.        


South Africa's North-West province: A Guide to its History and Heritage. © 2017

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