The weekend Duncan Village exploded
Pent-up anger at apartheid boiled over into violence on streets
NTSIKELELO Sokobi was 38 years old when unrest, violence and mayhem hit Duncan Village in August 1985, where an estimated 32 people died. Scores more were injured. Sokobi, who was an executive committee member of the Duncan Village Residents’ Association, remembers the day with a sad smile as he reminisces on the events leading up to the fateful weekend.
“I was a factory worker at Hoover before that but I had just lost my job after being held for 12 months for interrogation under Section 12 of the apartheid government law,” Sokobi explained.
“We were interrogated about our political activities and some people who were taken in never came out again. Those times were bad.”
At the beginning of this month the ANC’S centenary flame arrived in the Eastern Cape. It went to the homes and graves of various liberation struggle activists in Buffalo City Metro and to a number of memorial sites, including the site of the Duncan Village Massacre.
During a Duncan Village Memorial Lecture, local politicians called on members to honour the spirit of those who lost their lives during the liberation struggle by committing to a united ANC.
Recalling the Duncan Village Massacre, Sokobi said it was just after his release from incarceration – and anti-apartheid activist Victoria Mxenge’s funeral on August 11 – when the events unfolded.
Frustrated Duncan Village residents, who had been angered by apartheid laws and policies, went on the rampage inside the township, burning tyres and vandalising government property.
“People were angry when they came back from there [the funeral]. They started destroying everything associated with the apartheid government in outrage; even a policeman was burned with a tyre.
“The violence escalated from that point. People had been angry for all that time and it exploded then,” Sokobi reminisced.
He said the government responded by sending soldiers to monitor the situation, who came onto the scene with guns, shooting at every moving target in sight.
“Many people were killed or injured during that weekend.
“I survived being killed by pure luck. Bullets were flying everywhere, there were fires in the streets and chaos was everywhere.”
Sokobi said the association tried to resolve the situation by working side by side with other youth groups that were in existence at the time to try to plead with the youth to cease the violent activities.
“We were trying our best to stop the situation.
“We worked with the other youth clubs that were active at the time, holding meetings and rallies in stadiums to try calm people down.”
The talks proved in vain, however, and by the end of the weekend 32 people had died in the Duncan Village Massacre, although the correct number of fatalities is unclear.
They were buried at a mass funeral which was held at Ziphunzane Stadium on August 30.
Mzimkhulu Morgan, who was 22 years old at the time, said he had attended Mxenge’s funeral, where the violence began.
“The shooting began when we got back from there,” Morgan said.
“The group I was with decided to go and torch the government-owned bottle store in the area.”
Morgan said the soldiers started shooting as other state buildings started going up in flames, with people scattering about and many running for cover.
But according to him, the violence didn’t stop as angry Duncan Village residents continued the mayhem well into the weekend.
“Duncan Village was one of the last townships to take an active stand [against apartheid] so all that anger had been building up for so long.
“I remember bullets were flying and I was among the people and we were thinking of ways to save ourselves,” he said.
According to Morgan, the situation became worse after the mass funeral – exactly the opposite of what they had hoped to achieve.
“The government and the municipality didn’t come into the area at all after that.”
A memorial, which was unveiled by former President Thabo Mbeki in Duncan Village in 2008, was placed at the site.
It bears the names of those who died during the days of unrest. — email@example.com