The war of words over the Shell House “massacre” 14 months ago has obscured what really happened on the day. Gavin Du Venage gives his eyewitness account
MARCH 28 1994. I arrived at Shell House shortly after 11am to do a story on a shooting incident that had taken place earlier that morning. Shots had been fired out of the windows of the ANCs’ regional headquarters Lancet Hall a block away shortly after 7am that morning. Several Inkatha demonstrators had been hit.
The march by an estimated 50 000 Zulus was not an official Inkatha rally as it was ostensibly in response to a summons by the chiefs. But it was clear from the red ribbons and Inkatha paraphernalia that it was an Inkatha rally in all but name.
I was in the building for about 20 minutes before the first shots rang out. Single shots, presumably from hand guns, and the distinctive boom of heavy gauge shotguns were directed at the front of Shell House. The ANC headquarters was being attacked.
ANC security guards armed with hand guns took up positions in front of the building’s glass door entrance. About a dozen policemen stationed in front of the building scurried for shelter in doorways across the street or ducked behind the pillars of Shell House.
It was difficult to work out where the shots were coming from. As time progressed, the volume of fire increased and the security guards withdrew into the building. I scurried in with them.
The roar of gunfire was by now almost continuous. In the Shell House foyer, administration staff and bystanders who had sought shelter in the building huddled in terror behind the security desks.
It was then that I became aware that the security guards were planning to counter-attack.
A man appeared with an AK47 which he shielded under his suit coat, though the bulky weapon was clearly visible.
Other security guards gathered around him and they started arguing, I assume, about whether to advance with the weapon. After several minutes the matter was decided when one of the guards snatched the rifle from his colleague. He ran towards the door with several others following behind. A few seconds later I heard a long burst of fire from an AK47. When it was over, all gunfire had ceased. There was no sound at all.
For several minutes we stood around, not knowing what to do. Across the road I could see policemen still hiding in doorways. I decided to leave and walked cautiously out the main door and turned left on Plein Street. I walked around the building and saw the first body lying on the corner.
As I moved closer I saw a whole lot more—about 17 dead and seriously wounded men who had been cut down as they came around the corner.
The Shell House massacre? Rather, a bloody counter- attack from those in a building under seige.