`Trojan Horse' killers still a mystery
Investigations into the `Trojan Horse’ incident in 1985 may reveal why officers who killed children were never prosecuted, reports Gustav Thiel
IN the late afternoon of October 15 1985, security police hiding in crates on the back of a lorry opened fire on children playing in Thornton Road, in the Belgravia section of Athlone. Shaun Magmoed (16), Michael Miranda (11) and Jonathan Klaasen (21) died and nearly 20 others were injured in what became known as the “Trojan Horse” shooting.
The attack went to the heart of the anti- apartheid struggle in the Cape Flats.
Police at the time said they had opened fire on the children because they had been throwing stones.
Scores of witnesses to the shooting said the children had only been playing, and that the shooting had been unprompted.
Though an investigation was conducted, and 13 police officers were found to have participated in the shooting, they were not prosecuted or disciplined. It was unexplained at the time, but there are indications now that the National Party government’s Justice Ministry may have influenced the decision by the Cape attorney general not to prosecute.
Whatever happened then, those whose lives were torn apart by the shooting may now have a chance to resolve what happened that day on Thornton Road. Investigators with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission this week began to take statements from residents of the area, in preparation for hearings about the shooting to be held in May.
The commission’s investigation of the Trojan Horse shooting will form part of a larger investigation into the targeting of children by the security forces as part of a broader destabilisation campaign, said commission investigator, Pumla Gobodo- Madikazela.
“The Trojan Horse incident may have been part of a broader strategy by the security forces to destabilise communities by using children as targets,” she said.
“We have sound evidence that there were other similar incidents in the Western and Eastern Cape ... We also have grave concern about the possible collusion between the police and the legal system and the name of justice minister Kobie Coetzee has been mentioned.’‘
The hearings may also be an opportunity for those who lost loved ones or who were injured in the shooting to come to terms with what happened, and to find out why no action was taken against police involved in what they saw as an unwarranted, cold- blooded attack on their children.
Martin Magmoed, the father of Shaun, fought for seven years for legal action against the killers, in a battle that ended in failure in the Appellate Division in Bloemfontein.
Shaun Magmoed’s sister, Melanie, said her father and mother, Hillary, had yet to decide whether they would testify before the truth commission.
“We feel that nothing has been done ... to find the culprits,” she said. “My mother is still very bitter ... Whatever happens, Shaun will never be brought back so I don’t know if there is a point.”
Zeinab Ryklief, who was shot in the left shoulder and whose son Shaafwaan was also wounded, recalled the shooting as a “completely senseless” attack.
It was about 5pm when the police opened fire from their hiding place in the crates, which were in front of her house.
`I can still remember it clearly,” she said. “When the gunshots started ringing, several children ran into my house. It was chaos.”
Her friend, Amiena Abrahams, who was in her own house at the time, recalled seeing the police open fire on the Ryklief home. Her two sons, Ashraf and Toyer, were wounded in the shooting.
“I remember picking my children up from school and seeing a Casspir standing on the street corner and feeling that something evil was in the air,” she said.
“When the shots started ringing out I just wanted to protect my children who were hiding in a room ... They were wearing black and maroon shirts so I couldn’t immediately see that they were shot.”
When she realised that they were wounded she ran out of the house, but was ordered back by the police. She ignored the command, and dodging gunshots, she carried her children to an ambulance, which took them to the nearby Red Cross Children’s Hospital.
“At the hospital the first thing the doctor asked me was whether my children threw stones and whether they didn’t deserve what was coming to them.”
It angered her more than anything else that had happened. Calling the shooting “a complete Blood River all over again”, she said she doubted that the wounds would ever completely heal. Few in her community had hope that the truth commission would succeed where others had failed in bringing about justice.
“My son, Ashraf, still has a bullet lodged in his leg,” she said. “He will never make a proper husband for a woman. How can anyone repay that?”
Khalied Desai, the retired school principal of the Alexander Sinton School in Thornton Road, also recalled the shooting, and the anger it sparked in the community.
“Thornton Road was for us the seat of the struggle against apartheid and we were used to a strong police presence,” he said. He had been ordered to leave the scene.
“I could see the police were in a foul mood and were hunting innocent children,” said Desai, who was detained for six weeks the following year.
Asked whether amnesty should be granted to the 13 men involved in the shooting, he said: “This is a question I have been struggling with for a long time ... We are not just talking about petty crimes, but ultimately murder is murder and somebody must pay.
“I hope the truth commission gets to the bottom of the atrocities because the truth must be known,” he said.
The commission has not received any applications for amnesty as a result of the incident, but Gobodo-Madikazela said she expected that the officers involved would come forward of their own accord “once we have sound evidence of what happened on October 15 1985”.