Murder trial of “Sharpeville Six” opens

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Sharpeville-Six

Monday, 23 September 1985

The trial of Reginald Sefatsa, Reid Mokoena, Moses Diniso, Theresa Ramashamole, Duma Khumalo and Francis Mokhesi, better known as the "Sharpeville Six" opened on this date. They were accused of having killed the deputy major of Sharpeville, Kuzwayo Jacob Dlamini. At the time of their arrest, Sefatsa was a street vendor, Mokoena a trade unionist at an engineering firm, Diniso a building inspector at stewards and Lloyds, Ramashamole a waitress, Khumalo a student at Sebokeng Teachers Training College and Mokhesi a professional footballer.

Christian Mokubung and Gideon Mokone, also charged, were found guilty of public violence but not guilty on the charge of murder. They were sentenced to eight years imprisonment, but served only five. Their only crime was being present at the scene where Khumalo was murdered. Throughout the proceedings, Acting Justice Wessel Human had to rely on the interpreters to give a good and honest account of what really had happened on the day Dlamini was murdered. The issue that on the day of Dlamini's death residents were protesting against reputed corrupt councillors and the unjust apartheid system was not taken into consideration during the trial. Despite the lack of evidence against the "Sharpeville Six" they were sentenced to death two months later. They were taken to Pretoria Maximum Prison, where they spent four years on death row.

In 1986, State President P. W. Botha refused to intervene in the case, citing that he would be undermining the rule of law. In May 1986, they were given leave to appeal. The case drew the attention of the international community who condemned the sentence. Francis Mokhesi's sister, Joyce, spoke about the " Sharpeville Six" at a meeting of the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid. The World Council of Churches (WCC) , South African Council of Churches (SACC) , Black Sash and other organisations got involved in the defence of the Six in an attempt to avert their deaths.

On 11 July 1988, fifteen hours before their scheduled hangings, they were granted an indefinite stay of execution by Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee. Pressure was mounting on the South African government at the time by the International community to have the case of the "Sharpeville Six" re-examined since there was no conclusive evidence linking them to the murder of Dlamini.

Their reprieve came in 1991 when negotiations between liberation movements and government led to the release of all political prisoners. The " Sharpeville Six" were given amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) , but they were not compensated for their ordeal in prison. Today Duma Khumalo works for Khulumani Support Group a body responsible for giving counseling to the victims of apartheid. His story was developed by filmmakers and playwrights. Throughout the proceedings Khumalo has maintained his innocence and claim that he knew who were involved in the murder but feared for his life should he release their names. As for others, little has been heard of them since they have received amnesty.

 

References:
• Nooonan, P. (2003). They' re Burning the Churches: The final dramatic events that scuttled apartheid, Jacana: Bellevue
• Wallis, F. (2000). Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.
• Sassen, R. (2002), 'Still Standing: The Sharpeville Six', in the Pop Matters, 5 June, [online], Available at www.popmatters.com [Accessed: 20 September 2013]

Last updated : 16-Mar-2015

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011