“They picked up dead bodies in Sharpeville every day this week. They picked up dead schoolchildren, dead mothers and fathers, dead community councillors. By the end of the week they had found 30 bodies – but residents said there were more.”
That’s how one newspaper wrote about the anger and the pain in Sharpeville at the beginning of September. And it wasn’t only Sharpeville. It was the same in Evaton, Sebokeng, Boipatong and Bophelong.
Nobody knows how many people died and how many were injured. But people say Sebokeng hospital was full. And many more people lay hurt in their homes. They were too scared to go to hospital. They said the police were waiting there to arrest them.
It all began when the Lekoa town council sent letters to people saying the rent was going up. Very few people voted for this council. And very few people have money to pay more rent.
The people met in a church in Sharpeville to talk about ways to fight the rent increase. The people chose a special rent committee to talk for them.
At a meeting on the first Sunday in September, two thousand people met at the church. They decided to call for a stay-away from work and from school the next day. They would then march to the council offices· to complain about the new rent. They decided to have a peaceful march.
But it didn’t work out that way. Some people say that the people lost their tempers when they went to a councillor’s house. They wanted him to join them in the march – and he started shooting at them. Some people say the trouble started because the police were everywhere – and that never helps anything. Others say that the people had just had enough.
“Many people have no jobs and the cost of living goes up every day,” says one person from the Vaal. “Rents, permits and transport go up. Then there are water and electricity bills. And then sales tax went up. And just last month H.P. charges went up. And after all this, wages stay the same.
“And then we have many people losing jobs, mostly in the steeI and chemical factories. And then we must talk about the terrible housing shortage. People live squashed up like animals – and they don’t have much chance of getting a bigger or better house.
“But most of all the people have had enough of greedy councillors. These councillors eat and eat – and then they just wipe their mouths clean. They own most of the shops and businesses in the township. And they are always trying to get more.
“The people hate the councillors because they are greedy. But they hate them more for doing things without talking to the people first. They just tell the people what to do and nobody chose them in the first place.”
Three councillors were killed and their houses and businesses were burnt down. But the people also burnt and looted other shops and homes. Why?
“The newspapers say that the people went for Indian shops:’ says another person. “But this isn’t true. Nearly every shop was looted and burnt down. The dry-cleaning shop full of clothes belonging to African people was burnt down. I lost my jacket in the fire. I think people looted shops because they were hungry – a hungry stomach knows no law.”
Some leaders were not happy about some of the things that people did.
One leader said that at times ‘tsotsis’ took over. Quite a few people were stabbed when people fought over goods in the shops.
Rent was the main… reason for the anger. But most people say it’s more than rent. It’s more than the hated councillors. It’s more than the shortage of houses and jobs. It’s all of these things.· It’s the way the government treats black people in this country. Until the government throws away all of apartheid, they will have anger and hatred – just like we saw in the Vaal.