The "Sharpeville six" received a last-minute temporary reprieve from the gallows yesterday afternoon when the Pretoria Supreme Court postponed their execution for a month. And the mood of despondency which had burdened families for the entire week lifted as jubilant supporters carried lawyer Prakash Diar shoulder-high in victory. About 500 people danced outside the court on Church Square, bringing traffic to a standstill. The court ruling followed unprecedented international pressure on President PW Botha to spare the six – including direct appeals from British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and United States President Ronald Reagan.
In Cape Town, 29 members of the Black Sash were arrested for protesting outside parliament against the execution of the six – which had been scheduled for today, three days before Sharpeville Day. In Durban, representatives from the Methodist Church, Natal Indian Congress and the Natal Organisation of Women visited the British and American can consulates yesterday to ask for further clemency efforts. In Sharpeville, almost 1 000 people prayed for a last-minute miracle at a church service in the local Dutch Reformed Church at noon yesterday.
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu met Botha to repeat his plea for a reprieve. He described the meeting as "less than friendly". Botha rejected aII the pleas for clemency. Government representatives said the six could escape the gallows only if new evidence surfaced at the eleventh hour. What gave the Sharpeville Six a breather was a state witness's admission that the evidence he had given against two of the accused was not true. He said police who had assaulted him had told him what to say. This new evidence could come to light because Joseph Manete, who testified incognito, waived his right to attorney-client confidentiality.
During the trial lawyers acting for the six had tried to cross-examine Manete about a statement he had made to a lawyer in Diar's firm – in which he said he had been assaulted by police and forced to implicate two of the accused. But Judge WJ Human had upheld attorney-client confidentiality and ruled out cross- examination. During yesterday's application for a stay of execution, which was heard by the judge who had convicted them, Judge Human remarked that if he had heard Manete's evidence during the trial, he might have reached a different verdict.
Giving judgement on the application, the judge said he had enough material to grant a stay of execution which would be heard on April 18. Judge Human also criticised newspaper reports which claimed there had been insufficient evidence to convict the six. He said that was "nonsense" as he had found they had actively participated in the killing.
The affidavit which Manete agreed to release was read out in court yesterday. In the sworn statement, which was taken by Johannesburg lawyer Mohamed Bham on September 1985, Manete says a statement he had made to the police about events on September 3, 1984 was "not entirely true". He then gave the lawyer what he said was the real version: "I went to (Sharpeville councillor Khuzwayo) Dlamini's house and saw a crowd of people stoning the house. Amongst the people I saw were (defendants) Khumalo and Mosego. I saw both of them throw stones at Dlamini's house, but I did not see them actually pouring petrol on the house or stoning Dlamini himself. I also took part in the stone throwing, but I did not take part in the burning of Mr Dlamini."
Early yesterday morning two busloads of families and friends of the Sharpeville Six – most wearing black armbands – journeyed to Pretoria Central Prison for the last visits. At about 11am the spotlight moved to the, Pretoria Supreme Court. A mixed mood of despondency and hope filled the public gallery at the beginning of the hearing for a stay of execution. Many people were turned away from the small courtroom where the hearing began. After lunch, a larger courtroom was allocated for the hearing and more than 37 people crammed inside.
When Judge Human announced he was granting the stay of execution, spectators stood up and – without waiting for the judge to finish his ruling – went outside shouting "Amandla!" While women wept with relief, hundreds danced and sang, under the stern gaze of a large contingent of police. "One minute a person is supposed to die. One minute he is no longer going to die. This is a crazy country," a member of the crowd said.
One of the first overseas responses to yesterday's court decision came from Canada's Secretary of State Joe Clark, who expressed relief. He hoped whatever the outcome of further legal processes, the Sharpeville Six would not be executed. According to sources in Norway, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been engaged in a confidential initiative to grant the six political asylum in Norway. The initiative failed and the Norwegian government was preparing to protest strongly. The South. African Department of Foreign Affairs did not reply to queries on the matter. – Vusi Gunene and Jo-Ann Bekker
And the one who got away: an ex-cop
Barely three weeks before refusing clemency to the "Sharpeville Six", the state president granted it to a former policeman who a supreme court judge said cold-bloodedly" shot an "innocent youth". George John Sindane was sentenced to death last September in the Pretoria Supreme Court for the 1985 murder of the youth, Mabuti Mabane, in Mamelodi. On February 25 his sentence was commuted by the state president to eight years' imprisonment. This was particularly significant because in the case of the "Sharpeville Six" President PW Botha told Archbishop Desmond Tutu that he did not want to interfere in the legal process.
Sindane shot and killed Mabane at point-blank range on December 1985 and was sentenced to death on September 30 last year. Until April 1986, Sindane had been a police constable of some 10 years' standing. But according to his wife, he resigned because of pressure from the "comrades". Sitting with two assesors, Mr Justice DJ Curlewis refused him leave to appeal against the death sentence. Sindane petitioned the chief justice for leave to appeal against that decision, but this was also rejected. He subsequently petitioned the state president for clemency.
Barely six months after he entered his death row cell, Sindane was granted clemency. This was confined by both the Department of Justice in Pretoria and his lawyers, who said they were informed of this development on Friday. Sources in Pretoria said Prisoner V3855 has since been removed from death row and had taken his place among ordinary prisoners in the Pretoria jail.
The deceased was in the company of two friends when Sindane pressed a, 38 calibre weapon against his chest fatally shooting him. According to evidence submitted in court, the three were walking in Mamelodi at about 9pm with the object of getting transport to Mabopane when they were approached by Sindane, who demanded they give way. After they had moved to the side of the road, Sindane approached Mabane, pointed the gun at him and said "I will shoot you." Mabane asked why and added "Well, then, you better shoot" – and Sindane shot him at point-blank range. Mabane died as his friends took him round in a taxi, searching for a doctor.
The revolver used by Sindane had been issued on November 21, 1985, the day police fired on a crowd marching to the council offices to protest against rent increases, killing 23. Sindane returned the revolver in March 1986, a week before he left the force. In his evidence, Sindane said "comrades" had prevented him from visiting his in-laws and had previously smashed windows of his in-laws' house. His soft-spoken wife, who had been visiting her husband three times a week, said her two brothers had also been policemen but had resigned.
Sindane's reprieve came as worldwide protests and appeals to save the "Sharpeville Six" from the gallows were reaching fever pitch. In contrast with Sindane's case, in which he was convicted of shooting Mabane in cold blood, there was no evidence in either the supreme court case or the appeal court judgement on the six that any of them had contributed directly to the injuries which killed councillor Jacob Dlamini. Their conviction was on the basis of "common cause".
Meanwhile, Emergency detainees held at Johannesburg prison announced in a statement they would hold a two-day fast on Wednesday and Thursday to observe the execution of the six. – Thami Mkhwanazi
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.