But for 77-year-old Sharpeville pensioner Seabata Klaas Fokane, last week’s visit by President PW Botha to his matchbox home was the start of a nightmare. “I curse the day Botha set his foot on my doorstep – it has made my life a misery,” Fokane told Weekly Mail. Botha dropped in unexpectedly on the Fokane household after receiving the freedom of Lekoa, of which Sharpeville is a part, from Mayor Esau Mahlatsi and the town councillors of Lekoa on Thursday last week.
The people of Sharpeville were not over enthusiastic in their welcome. Fokane says that since a beaming Botha unexpectedly walked into his “match-box” he has been having sleepless nights. “I now wake up three or four times a night and check around outside, thinking that some people may be around to come and petrol-bomb my house.” He believes some residents of Sharpeville think the visit to his house had been a “fixed thing”. “I was really taken by surprise. I just saw a whole group of people pouring into my yard and led by Botha, whom I have only seen on television in the past. He shook my hand and asked me how I was feeling, whether I was happy or not. He also asked me to buy the house which I have occupied since 1947. He did not offer to buy it for me. I told him I have no money. “That was the end of his flying visit to us.”
Fokane said he had not been informed by the mayor of Lekoa that Botha would stop at his home while on a 10-minute tour of SharpeviIle. “I was happy at the same time but also gripped with fear. I am still mystified by visit.” He said he bad been afraid to welcome the state president into his home. “Even now I am living in fear.” He thinks some residents believe the visit was arranged by Mahlatsi. “I do not know Mahlatsi from any other source other than that of him being a mayor. I did not even vote during elections in 1983.
Like most Sharpeville residents, I do not support the town councillors.” We were joined by a group of four women, who said they were concerned about Fokane. “I sincerely believe that Botha would have earned a lot of goodwill by visiting the Sharpeville graveyard and paying homage to the 69 men and women shot dead by police in 1960, noted Emily Ramatlakane, who said her only son was shot dead by police on the afternoon of September 3, 1984. She had discovered her son’s body at the Vereeniging mortuary a week later. “The deaths of the people in 1960 and those who died during the upheaval in 1984 seem to mean nothing to Botha,” she said. “He does not care.”
Fokane said he had been among the crowd at the square in front of the police station on March 21, 1960, when police opened fire on a group of anti-pass protesters, killing 69. “I do not know what Botha was really doing in Sharpeville,” he said. “As a president he should have gone to the cemetery as a gesture of good- will.” Earlier, Mahlatsi denied that the stop at Fokane’s home had been planned. “It was a spontaneous gesture on the part of the state president,” he said. “I did not even know that he was going to stop there. To me it was a pleasant surprise.”
He said many residents thereafter asked the entourage to stop briefly at their homes. Mahlatsi ruled out the idea that Botha’s visit to Lekoa was intended to discuss the nearly three-year aid rent crisis in the area. He said his council had invited Botha “to see for himself the conditions under which blacks live because we felt that was very important for somebody who has influence, so that he can take appropriate decisions”.
The council had also invited Botha because there had always been division between blacks and whites in South Africa. “That must come to a stop,” he said. “There should be reconciliation. His gesture of coming here would be an indication of reconciliation.” The councillors also wanted Botha to explain his envisaged reform process to the community. Mahlatsi said he still believed Botha’s proposed National Statutory Council was not the right solution to the country’s problems. “I still seriously urge Botha to abandon the idea of operating this body,” he said.
A representative of the Vaal Civic Association said: “We have not forgotten the gravestones in Sharpeville, the six people in death row, including the only woman so far to have been condemned to death, Theresa Ramashamole, for a political offence, and the trial in Delmas, where Vaal Triangle leaders face charges of treason. He described Botha’s visit to Lekoa as a “miserable failure. The cheers by the lower primary school pupils were meaningless.
The whole thing was orchestrated. Those who attended the reception were pensioners, unemployed people and others who went there because they were curious that something might happen.” He said it was “another Rubicon – nothing was said about rent. He did not touch the grievances of the people. “This shows that the councillors are blind. Mahlatsi himself has got the freedom of Lekoa. He lives behind barbed wire in a special compound and is heavily guarded.”
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail newspaper