Today the Uitenhage Survivors group will gather as usual at their weekly meeting at KwaNobuhle Community Hall in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape. In March this year, this group commemorated the 36 people shot dead, and countless others injured, by Apartheid police shooting from armoured vehicles during the Langa Massacre in 1985.
Reverend Mpumelelo John Ntshikivana remembers the day as follows: “On the anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre, a large group of residents of Langa township began to march to KwaNobuhle to attend a funeral that had been banned. We had to pass along the outskirts of the white town. We were confronted by 2 large police vehicles and many police officers who ordered us to disperse. We started the march in Maduna road. It was a peaceful march. Then opposite the Methodist church, the South Africa Defence Force and the South African Police Force tried to stop us. We did not want to stop because we were going to the funeral of our fellow comrades at Kwanobuhle. (We were staying at Langa location.) I saw one of the soldiers raise a red flag. That is when the shooting started. We fled and ran but the shooting did not stop. About thirty-six people were shot dead.”
The kind of permanent damage caused by this indiscriminate shooting can be seen in the life of Ms. Elsie Gishi – one of the named plaintiffs in the case – who was repeatedly fired on from a Casspir armoured vehicle during a township protest in December 1976. Multiple bullets entered Ms. Gishi’s back, and some remained lodged in her chest and arms. One bullet is lodged in her throat. Another is lodged inside the bone in her left arm and, as a result, she can no longer lift her arm and the entire left side of her body is lame. The three remaining bullets cause respiratory dysfunction and kidney problems. Ms. Gishi is permanently disabled and continues to suffer daily from that shooting in 1976. For survivors of this kind of violation ‘history’ is not in the past, it is a daily lived reality – and the least that they deserve is an acknowledgement and reparations from the companies that made this kind of gross human rights violation possible.
Today, a German film crew will be meeting the survivors in Uitenhage whose lives were irrevocably changed when police opened fire from armoured vehicles supplied by companies such as the German Daimler AG. These days, Uitenhage is the site of another of the companies that supplied vehicles and parts to the military – General Motors – plants in South Africa. Neither General Motors nor Daimler have acknowledged the harm they helped to cause for these members of the very community in which they now manufacture cars. Cars that are unlikely to ever be affordable for survivors who still suffer daily from injuries and traumas inflicted on them by indiscriminate shootings from their vehicles.