Looking at the ‘Sharpeville Six’ – one by one

when Sharpeville's deputy mayor opened fire on a crowd attaching his house. And for slapping a woman who remonstrated when the councillor was dragged to his burning vehicle. That is the only evidence against the 27-year-old former Vereeniging waitress who – until yesterday's late reprieve – was due to be the first woman executed for what many regard as a politically-inspired crime. The evidence was supplied by a single state witness who gave evidence in camera and incognito.

Ramashamola was arrested two months after deputy mayor Khuzwayo Dlamini was stoned, stabbed and burnt to death by unknown persons on September 3, 1984, the first day of the Vaal uprising. Police took her away in her nightgown and she has never been back to the Sharpeville home she shared with her mother and two younger sisters. Like the five men among the "Sharpeville Six", Ramashamola was held first as a Section 29 detainee, then as an awaiting trial prisoner. She and her co-accused remained in jail for the duration of the trial.

On December 10, 1985 six of the trialists were convicted of murder and subversion. Three days later they were sentenced to hang for the murder charge, and received an eight-year jail term for subversion. Their appeal against the sentence was dismissed on December 1. The other five are:

  • Mojalefa Sefatsa, 32, who earned a living selling vegetables and fruit from a truck. His wife, Regina, gave birth to their only child, a girl, while he was in detention. He was implicated in the attack on Dlamini by the deputy mayor's widow and a state witness identified only as Mr Y. Dlamini's widow said Sefatsa threw a stone at her husband. Mr Y claimed he disarmed Dlamini of a gun the deputy mayor had fired into the crowd. Defence lawyers argued Sefatsa could not have performed both acts, which happened almost simultaneously. Sefatsa said he was helping a policeman who was being attacked at the time of Dlamini's killing. But the policeman told the court he was attacked much later that day.  
  • Malebo Mokoena, 24, who was engaged to the mother of his five- year-old daughter, was unemployed at the time of his arrest He was convicted solely on the basis of a confession he made to a magistrate while in custody. He claimed he made the statement only after police subjected him to electric shock torture. In his confession, Mokoena admitted throwing one stone at Dlamini's back as he lay on his stomach. A pathologist determined Dlamini's death had been caused by brain injury or burning or both.
  • Oupa Diniso, 32, was married with two daughters who are 12 and six years old. He worked as an inspector at a steel factory. State evidence was that police, led to his house by Sefatsa, found Dlamini 's firearm on Diniso's property. Diniso said returning from golf on the day after Dlamini's death, he had taken a firearm away from several young boys. Thinking it broken, he put it in his toolbox and forget about it until two months later when police arrived asking for a gun. He handed it over immediately. Diniso's lawyers argued possession of the weapon was not sufficient evidence that he was one of the people who attacked Dlamini.
  • Duma Khumalo, 28, the father of a six-year-old child, was studying for a teacher's diploma when he was arrested. Two state witnesses, Mr X and Mr Y, claimed Khumalo had stoned Dlamini's house, made petrol bombs, set fire to the house and pushed Dlamini's car out of his garage. Khumalo said he had been forced to join the crowd, but had left to assist a friend who was struck by a bullet at the time of the first attack on Dlamini. The friend gave evidence confirming Khumalo had taken him to a nearby house for treatment, as did the owner of the house. The judge, upholding the rule of confidentiality between attorneys and clients, refused to allow defence lawyers to cross-examine Mr X on a statement he had made before he was called as a state witness. Lawyers told the court the effect of the statement was that police had told Mr X to implicate Khumalo and fellow accused Francis Mokhesi.
  • Francis Don Mokhesi, 31, a player for the Vaal Professionals Soccer Club, was married with a nine- year-old daughter. He was also convicted on the basis of evidence by Mr X and Mr Y. They said he had stoned Dlamini's house, made petrol bombs, ordered the burning of the house and pushed Dlamini's car out of his yard. He was arrested five months after the incident, in February 1985. Mokhesi said he was nowhere near the scene of the attack. He had been injured playing soccer the previous week and as a result of the ankle injury he could walk only with pain and difficulty. His team coach and doctor confirmed the injury and their evidence was accepted by the court.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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