Toti’s bomb still echoes
Three decades since Andrew Zondo bombed Xmas shoppers at the Sanlam Centre, his family and surviving victims’ lives remain forever changed
It’s a boiling-hot Friday lunch time at Toti Mall. Festive season tourists wander in from the beach across the promenade. Faster-moving locals catch up on their shopping. The mall is a typical KwaZulu-Natal seaside shopping centre – an eclectic mix of small shops spread out around a supermarket. A hair salon; a computer shop; a Chinese shop selling everything from flip flops to razor blades; an optometrist.
The clientele is just as varied. There’s a run on the grilled brisket with chips, roll and salad for R30 a pop at Totilicious, one of a row of fast-food outlets in what used to be the Sanlam Centre.
It’s hard to imagine that 30 years ago this unremarkable mall was the scene of a bomb blast that claimed four lives – two of them children – and injured 140 people on December 23.
The bombing was carried out by 19-yearold ANC Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) operative Andrew Sibusiso Zondo in response to an SA Defence Force raid on Maseru three days earlier in which nine people, many of them noncombatants, were killed in a cross-border operation aimed at destabilising the ANC’s forward operating bases in the frontline states.
Cornio Smit (8), Willem van Wyk (2), Irma Bencini (48) and Anna Shearer (43) were killed in the blast from a limpet mine Zondo placed in a rubbish bin. At his trial, he testified his intended target had been the SAA offices at the centre.
Zondo, arrested in February 1986, received five death sentences from Judge Ramon Leon and was executed in Pretoria on September 9. Two of his accomplices, Phumezo Nxiweni and Stanley Sipho Bhila, were acquitted. A third, Thembinkosi Mofokeng, turned state witness.
The Toti Bombing, as it became known, was one of the ANC’s first operations against civilian targets and came in response to a series of deadly cross-border raids in Swaziland, Mozambique and Lesotho from 1981 in which increasing numbers of noncombatants were killed indiscriminately.
The passage of time seems to have done little to take away the pain Zondo’s family and comrades carry. His father, Reverend Aiken Zondo of the African Apostolic Church, is ill following the death in November of his wife, Lephina, and was unable to talk to City Press.
The family’s suffering did not end with the pain of Andrew being executed and buried in an unmarked grave. His remains were reburied at Durban’s Red Hill Cemetery in 2006.
Zondo’s brother, Mdu, was so severely assaulted by police at Andrew’s memorial service at the family home that he developed epilepsy, from which he later died. Two activists were also shot dead at the service. Security police murdered both Nxiweni and Bhila. Nxiweni was thrown off a cliff. Bhila was shot and buried in a shallow grave. Their killers, all ranking Security Branch officers, were granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Dianne de Vos (50) then an apprentice printer at Republican Press, was at her flat in Afsaal, a block next to the mall, on the day of the blast. Her mother, Yvonne, was inside the centre doing last-minute Christmas shopping.
“I was on leave. It was somewhere between 11 and 12. I was watching Fame when the bomb went off. I thought the lift had come off its cables it was so loud. Then I saw the smoke coming from the centre. All I could think of was my mum in the OK Bazaars,” she says.
“I ran into the centre without thinking about it. I wanted to see that my mum was alright. There was a little boy lying on the floor. His face was blown off. Gone. His nanny’s foot was blown off. The three doctors who were in the centre were attending to people. Ansie Prinsloo was carrying triplets. She lost two and the third was born blind and deaf,” recalls De Vos.
“My mum was in the OK Bazaars when the bomb went off. The people in OK were lucky because the windows just shattered, so nobody was killed or badly hurt.
“It’s 30 years, but I can still see everything clearly. I’ll never forget that little boy with no face. I didn’t know what was going on until two cops caught me and brought me out of the centre. That’s when the reality hit,” she says.
De Vos says she refuses to remain “trapped” by the past.
“I had nightmares for a long time over what I saw and what happened. You have to get up and carry on,” she says.
Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, Zondo’s MK comrade who was jailed on Robben Island for his role in the 1985/86 bombing campaign known as Operation Butterfly, is reluctant to talk about the trauma suffered by the Zondo family.
“This is not the right time to talk about this as Andrew’s family and comrades, as we laid his mother to rest last month and his father is in very ill health,” he says.
Zondo was tried separately to the Durban 12, as the Butterfly accused were known during their trial in the high court in Pietermaritzburg.
“It was very hard on the Zondo family,” said Dhlomo. “Even after killing Andrew, the police never stopped harassing them. What more can you do to a family who has already lost their son? It was very traumatic for them. Till today, the family has not recovered from it psychologically. The family really is not well,” he says.
In 1996, Cornio Smit’s father, Hennie, testified at the TRC’s human rights violations hearings in Johannesburg. Smit, who had earlier met Zondo’s parents at his Pretoria home, moved commissioners by saying that his son had “died in the cause of the oppressed people”. Smit, who told the TRC he had been called a “traitor” for his views, said he met Zondo’s family to try to understand what had happened.
“I’ve got no grudge against them. I mean, it was actually a rebellion. It was a war. In war, things happen that the generals don’t plan. Nobody plans it. It just happens,” he said in his evidence.
Andre Beetge, the DA councillor for Ward 97, under which the mall falls, says Toti today is a far cry from what it was when black beachgoers were terrorised by local AWB members in the early 1990s. Still, of its 25 000 residents today, only 22% are black and 69% white.
Residents, he says, vaguely remember the bombing but give it little thought. However, the renaming of Kingsway Road, in which the mall is situated, to Andrew Zondo by the eThekwini municipality did spark “a lot of resentment”.
“That caused animosity. People still use the name Kingsway, not Andrew Zondo. People have reconciled here and there aren’t incidents of racial intolerance, but the renaming caused hurt,” he says. Pastor Zondo was among those who opposed the name change at the time, saying it would open old wounds.
Sugen Gounden, the owner of a computer shop next to the spot where Zondo’s bomb exploded, is aware of the history, but not in detail.
Gounden, who moved to Amanzimtoti from Reservoir Hills 15 years ago, says that while there remains a “2%” racist element in the area, “Toti is lovely”.
Farouk Dangor, who bought the mall from Sanlam for R14 million in 1995, sees the irony of an Indian man from Klerksdorp owning a mall in a town that was once a right-wing stronghold.
“When I bought it I didn’t know anything about the bombing. I come from Klerksdorp, so I don’t know politics. I was looking to invest in commercial property and the price appealed to me, so I went for it,” he says.
“We were scared, at first. This was a heavy verkrampte [conservative] area, and we were thinking these guys were going to beat us up.
“When we bought the mall we couldn’t even go to the beach here, that’s how bad it was. Things have changed, thank God.”
‘TOTI IS LOVELY’ Sugen Gounden, the owner of a computer shop next to the spot where Zondo’s bomb exploded in 1985
APART The shopping
centre that was bombed
by Andrew Zondo in 1985
is today a hive of happy
activity. It was bought
by a businessman
from North West in 1995
for R14 million and has been renamed Toti