Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine


At Least The Facts Are Known

It would have been very surprising indeed if Judge Kannemeyer had in his report on the Uitenhage massacre brought himself to criticise the police officer who gave the order to shoot the unarmed crowd of mourners that ended in 20 being killed and many more being injured.

The judge did find that the police evidence which described the crowd as heavily armed with knives and sticks was exaggerated and the police assertion that they were attacked by a hail of stones was a fabrication. To quote the judge, "the inevitable conclusion is that the stone attack... was fabricated in order, in part, to justify the shooting."

The judge also found that the police armoured vehicles patrols had been issued with sharp ammunition for the rifles and side arms and heavy calibre cartridges for their shotguns, but not with the standard riot control equip- ment or bird shot, rubber bullets and tear gas and that this non-issue of standard equipment was the result of a deliberate policy and a matter of grave concern, for "had proper equipment been available, the gathering may well have been dispersed with little or no harm to the persons involved."

Mr Justice Kannemeyer also cited as a factor leading to the shooting, the confusion caused by the unnecessary banning "on doubtful grounds of funerals of earlier unrest victims and the rescheduling, rebanning and re- scheduling again of the funerals."

It might not amount to much, but the judge did find also that police in an armoured vehicle taunted the crowd and challenged it to throw stones before the march ever started. He also dismissed police allegations that the crowd was intent on attacking whites in Uitenhage and that the only weapons left on the scene (after police opened fire) were a piece of wood, a pick handle and a length of iron, and the fact that not a single member of the police crews had been hit by any stone allegedly thrown from the crowd.

At the end of all these findings, the judge concluded that no sinister inferences could be drawn from the in- accurate statement made to Parliament on the day of the shooting, when the Minister had claimed that the police had had to shoot in self defence as their lives and those of the white community in Uitenhage had been in danger. The judge also did not consider it appropriate to criticise the police officer who ordered the shootings.

This, of course, needs to be looked at from the perspective that the policeman is white, the people who were killed and injured are black, the minister is white and it must be said, the judge is also white.

Having said that, one must perhaps be grateful for small mercies. That it was possible within the system to appoint a judicial commission to enquire into the tragedy at all, that the black had enough confidence in the commission to appear and give evidence. In the circumstances it wouldn't have mattered very much if Judge Kannemeyer had even recommended for punishment those who ordered the shootings. He had found that police caused the initial problem by creating confusion over the dates for the funerals and deliberately gave live ammunition to the armoured vehicle crews and then provoked the crowds by taunting them; he has found that the crowd were not armed or posed any danger to anybody and that the fact that sixteen of the dead and most of the 27 reported were shot from behind indicated that the firing to stop the crowd went on longer than necessary.

Obviously, it would look to us from the evidence presented by Judge Kannemeyer that murder most foul has been committed; the police planned it, instigated it and executed it without provocation and the Law and Om Minister tried to cover it up for them. It would look that the police officer who gave the order does not need to be criticised but has to be prosecuted as well the Minister censured but that would probably meant the blacks in South Africa would be accorded the same status before the law and mean a dismantling of apartheid system.

It is significant that the Law and Order Minister in response to the report, has noted that Judge Kannemeyer had dismissed allegations that 43 people had been killed, that police had improperly disposed of bodies and shot injured people.

In other words, a judicial commission at least, succeeded in separating rumour from fact. After an incident like the Uitenhage massacre, there were bound to be exaggerations and rumours; as though the facts alone were not horrendous enough.

Surprising, therefore, that many African governments are so reluctant to appoint judicial inquiries into matters of public concern.

A young Nigerian woman died in police custody recent after she had been arrested allegedly for carrying drug The police story that she died of starvation because she refused to eat after five days in custody ranks on the same level as the Uitenhage police story of having come under a hail of stones.

There will be no enquiry, judicial or otherwise.

talking drums 1985-06-17 campaign against death penalty in Ghana